With all the national attention on whistleblowers, now’s the time to remember Sallyanne Barrow, who blew the whistle on her UGA boss and got fired as a result. She filed a lawsuit against the board of regents in December 2015, and since then the system’s hired guns have fought and stalled, while Barrow has struggled to persevere, pay her lawyer and care for her disabled adult son, for whom her husband is full-time caregiver. All local judges recused themselves from hearing the case, and Barrow had to go to Atlanta to find an attorney who would handle it.
Barrow, a CPA who holds a master of accountancy degree from UGA’s Terry College of Business, was associate director of finance and operations for the UGA alumni association. In that capacity, she regularly received glowing annual performance evaluations from her boss, Deborah Dietzler, the executive director of the alumni association.
Then, colleagues began bringing to Barrow’s attention charges that Dietzler was falsifying travel expenses, that she was scheduling alumni activities in California, NYC and other places to coincide with marathons she entered, and that she was frequently out of the office without taking personal leave, generally coming to work late in the afternoon, while her two assistants covered for her.
Since the travel expenses and leave time were ultimately her responsibility, Barrow began documenting her boss’s air travel, hotel expenses and time out of the office. The result is a voluminous dossier of meticulous records and notations, such that anyone trying to fudge expenses should fervently hope that if somebody blows the whistle on them, she will not have a master’s degree in accounting and the tenacity of a bulldog.
Once she had her documents in place, Barrow began the process of bringing matters to the attention of her superiors, beginning with Dietzler. Barrow’s next annual performance evaluation turned negative, and the office environment turned hostile. As Barrow took her documentation up the chain of command, she was promised that it would be looked into. When it wasn’t, she climbed ever higher with her concerns, into the top echelons of the university system. Eventually, the bad performance reports were used as an excuse to sideline her in the alumni association and then to fire her.
Meanwhile, the university administration could no longer ignore the evidence against Dietzler. But Dietzler was not fired; she was given a job in the UGA development office at her same six-figure salary, where she rarely came into work and before long landed a new, better job at the University of Louisville, with glowing recommendations from UGA administrators.
Reporters for WSB-TV and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution got hold of the story and followed Dietzler to Louisville, where, though she would not talk to them, she soon resigned from her position.
Meanwhile, Barrow has held on, in hopes of finally getting her day in court. Her lawyer has succeeded in finding a judge from Albany who will hear the case and an available courtroom here, probably in February, where the case can be heard.
After two-and-a-half years without health insurance, Barrow is finally eligible for Medicare. She has started a personal accounting service for seniors in their homes, Northeast Georgia Financial Management Services, and she is licensed to sell life and health insurance.
When we first wrote about Barrow, it seemed unlikely that she could hold out against the power and influence of the University System of Georgia, even in a case where that system seems so transparently to be stonewalling obvious retaliation against an employee who not only blew the whistle (and is entitled to protections she did not receive) but has the documents to prove she’s not just whistling Dixie.
Well, of course, the university system deserves its day in court, too, even if it has to be dragged in. Perhaps Barrow’s lonely fight against “the law’s delay, the insolence of office” will result in justice being done, although there is apparently no end to delaying tactics available to a large and powerful institution. And the university system has already sent a clear message to anybody else who might uncover wrongdoing within its corridors: “If you blow that whistle, we will shove it down your throat”—a mistake in Barrow’s case, since it just stuck in her craw.