Gwinnett medical examiner staff forced to work for free, watch colleague be fired over Zoom

Dr. Carol Terry has served as Gwinnett County Medical Examiner for 15 years, the only metro county to use a private company for that service.

Former investigators of the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner’s office describe to the FOX 5 I-Team a place of emotional abuse, where some were forced to work for free and staff was once required to join a Zoom call to watch a colleague be fired.


Some of those former workers have since filed federal complaints.

"I’m tired of it," said Bob Bumgardner, who worked there for 10 years. "I’m tired of what happens with all these people."

Gwinnett is the only metro county that pays a private company to serve as medical examiner.

Dr. Carol Terry’s Forensics Pathology Services has won the contract for the last 15 years. The base amount this year is $1,508,808 and can be automatically renewed for another four years.

She has an important responsibility. Staff members investigate all unexpected or unexplained deaths. 

These five former Gwinnett Medical Examiner investigators complain they got no pay if they worked overtime to investigate a death. In some weeks, they say they worked 72 hours of overtime for free.

Last year, Terry’s office handled 2,172 cases. They’re on track for similar numbers this year.

But when you do the work, you probably expect to be paid.

Terry required her investigators to rotate on-call weekends — in addition to their 40-hour workweek — but with no additional pay. She considered them salaried employees, exempt from overtime rules.

"She just willfully said ‘No, I’m not paying them,’" said Bumgardner. "Period."

Bob Bumgardner, who started his law enforcement career in 1980 with APD, filed a Department of Labor complaint against Dr. Terry accusing her of violating overtime laws. She's now limiting staff to a true 40-hour work week.

Other former investigators said they got no comp time either, even though their phone would ring constantly during those 72 hours on call.

"You’re literally falling asleep in the morgue because you haven’t had any rest," complained Ashley Bryant.

"So you’ve got 72 straight hours," said Shannon Byers. "You got maybe an hour of sleep in those three days. The phone rings all night."

Only after Bumgardner filed a Department of Labor complaint in September did Terry finally limit her staff to a true 40-hour workweek.

"I want to do what’s right and I want to comply with federal law," Terry told the FOX 5 I-Team. "And I intend to."

Chief investigator Eddie Reeves works a scene in Gwinnett County. Last year, investigators handled 2,172 cases, deaths that were either unexpected or unexplained.

So why didn’t she eliminate the free work situation before? Terry said no one had ever complained.

"If no one says anything to me, I’m not going to know about it," she explained.

That federal labor investigation is continuing. Terry could be ordered to pay double or even triple back pay if evidence shows she willfully ignored the law.

"They should absolutely be paid," said Adian Miller, an Atlanta labor attorney not affiliated with the case.

Miller said simply classifying a position as salary does not automatically make the employee exempt from overtime rules.

Former investigators said the requirement to work some hours for free is one example of a toxic work environment.

In March, Medical Examiner staff were told to join a Zoom call. Its sole purpose: to fire another employee in front of everyone. Dr. Terry says now "it was a terrible idea."

They point to others, including a March Zoom call involving the entire office specifically to tell an employee she was fired.

The recorded Zoom meeting shows nine employees including Dr. Terry. She spends the entire 30-minute meeting directing her comments at Shannon Volkodav, a veteran cop who had just joined the ME’s office a month earlier.

"What I’ve heard from each person here is that you don’t listen," Terry tells her.

The other employees appear to be sitting in their offices. Volkodav is at home, recovering from COVID-related pneumonia. She had been in the emergency room the night before.

"There’s nothing so terrible that I have to get fired," Volkodav tells Terry, clearly stunned to learn the meeting was set up to fire her.

"You’re kind of being incredulous that you’ve had even this kind of impact on people almost smacks of calling me a liar," Terry responds. And when Volkodav objects — Terry snaps.

"And don’t talk over me!" she said.

"I honestly never thought anyone would believe me because I wouldn’t have believed anyone if anyone had described this toxic environment under the leadership of Dr. Terry," Volkodav later told the FOX 5 I-Team.

Three labor attorneys consulted by the FOX 5 I-Team said they had never heard anything like it.

"That’s pretty atrocious," said Miller.

Shannon Volkodav once served as public information officer for the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office. She is no longer in law enforcment.

Volkodav filed a federal discrimination complaint. So did two other former employees, including Bumgardner who is 66. He alleged age discrimination.

Terry said she set up the Zoom meeting to show Volkodav that the rest of the office was unified in the belief the job was hurting her mental health. Volkodav said she was fine.

"It was not intended with any malice," Terry insisted. "It was intended to be supportive. It was a terrible idea and something I will never do again."

She also said looking back, she owes Volkodav an apology.

Volkodav said she will continue to pursue her discrimination case against Terry.