CHEROKEE COUNTY, Ga. - A Cherokee County man is being asked to repay the State of Georgia thousands in unemployment, after his former employer changed the reasoning behind his separation from the company.
George Thomas had barely worked three months as a landscaper for Gibbs Gardens when he was called into a mandatory review in November of 2018.
Thomas met with owner Jim Gibbs, and said he started recording due to unrelated workplace disputes among other employees.
In the roughly 34 minute recording obtained by Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr, the men disagree over the terms of pay and work hours.
Thomas tells Gibbs “don’t be surprised,” if he eventually puts in a two weeks notice because of the disagreement.
The meeting ends with Gibbs terminating Thomas, and telling him he has no problem with his work.
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“I want to wish you well, but I’ve got to have a team leader here that’s going to take care of the crew,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs also tells Thomas he has no problem with his work performance, but his attendance and willingness to work weekends are an issue.
Thomas repeatedly expressed inability to work some of the desired hours for child care reasons, and he continually disagrees with his pay level given Gibbs’ desire for his work hours.
“But anyway I appreciate it,” Gibbs says towards the end of the recording.”
“So you’re letting me go?” Thomas asks.
“Yeah (inaudible scratching),”Gibbs replies.
Initial separation paperwork provided to the Georgia Department of Labor by Gibbs Gardens states that Thomas was indeed “released.”
But follow-up paperwork states he resigned, contradicting the recording and previous documents.
In an appeal, Gibbs’ human resources department tells the DOL that Thomas quit over pay, and they did not receive proper notice from the department regarding the unemployment status.
“Now the Department of Labor thinks I’m going to pay them back $4,620 of money that I deserve,” Thomas said. “I was let go. That’s my frustration.”
Thomas said the state also violated its own procedures when it allowed Gibbs to call in 25 minutes late to an appeals hearing.
Records indicate Gibbs representatives did not initially did not pick up the phone for the hearing.
“Nobody answers and 10 minutes has gone by and I’m thinking the hearing officer is going to go ahead and say we’re letting this go,” said Thomas.
Instead the hearing continued, and Thomas said he played the recording he shared with Channel 2.
Gibbs ultimately won the appeal, and now Thomas is taking both parties to Superior Court.
Because of pending litigation, attorneys for the state and Gibbs Gardens declined to comment on the story.
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