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State settles whistleblower case with former 21st Century Partnership leader

ATLANTA -- The state of Georgia will pay nearly a half-million dollars to settle a woman’s claims that she was fired for blowing the whistle on her boss at the Georgia National Guard.

MaryTherese Grabowski, a former executive director of the 21st Century Partnership in Houston County, said she felt vindicated as she announced the settlement at her attorney’s office in Atlanta on Monday.

“I stand by my lawsuit. I believed that I was doing the right thing,” Grabowski said. “I hated that it happened at all, but I have too much respect for the men and women of the Guard and the people of the great state of Georgia to not do my job,” said Grabowski, also a former anchor for WMAZ-TV.

She went to work for the Georgia Department of Defense in March 2012 as the director of public affairs. Part of her job was to help former Georgia National Guard Adj. Gen. Jim Butterworth handle media scrutiny over his alleged misuse of public funds. Another part of her job, according to her suit, was to “help ensure Butterworth would not continue to make the same type of mistakes.”

The state Department of Defense admitted no wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

The case was settled “to avoid the cost and resources associated with litigation,” a department spokeswoman said in a written statement. “The settlement was agreeable to both parties.”

Grabowski’s suit said Butterworth pushed and even broke rules during her tenure there. Her suit alleged that he attended the Paris Air Show as a guest of Gov. Nathan Deal in 2013, even though she advised Butterworth against the trip during a lean budget year. The Guard paid a substantial amount of money for the trip, her suit said.

Grabowski also said Butterworth improperly used a Guard building and other resources for charity fundraising and also demanded that she ban Atlanta television station WAGA-TV from access to any Guard personnel or facilities.

She said she was fired in August 2013 after she complained of Butterworth’s behavior to him and another superior.

The Georgia Department of Defense, in a statement last year, said Grabowski was fired after several conversations regarding her job performance and after she declined to promptly accept a reassignment. It was not because of any activity protected by whistleblower laws, according to the department.

The statement said that Grabowski’s advice against some fundraising activities was considered and did not reflect negatively on her.

In July 2014, Grabowski sued the state Department of Defense, the Georgia National Guard and Butterworth under the state’s whistleblower law.

The settlement means there will be no jury trial.

Butterworth, a former state senator, now runs the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, a post that Deal appointed him to three months ago.

Grabowski’s case makes at least the fourth major state whistleblower settlement in the past year.

The others came from former employees of the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. They claimed they had been put out of their jobs for looking into allegations of wrongdoing in Deal’s campaign office.

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