Connecticut’s former Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell filed a lawsuit this week against the state and the Department of Public Health, for Governor Ned Lamont’s (D) decision to fire her in 2020.
Her lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut, alleges that Gov. Ned Lamont (D) dismissed her “simply on the basis that he did not prefer to have an older, African American female in the public eye as the individual leading the State in the fight against COVID-19.” The complaint argues that she is entitled to compensatory damages for violations of the anti-retaliation and anti-discrimination components of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as well as the state’s Fair Employment Practices Act.
Coleman-Mitchell was promoted to become the Constitution State’s top medical official in April 2019. She had worked for the Public Health Department for approximately two decades.
The former commissioner maintains that, in March 2020, she approached Lamont with concerns about how to best protect nursing home residents from the novel coronavirus, especially regarding limitations on visits by outsiders and testing requirements for staff. Her complaint recalls her admonitions being “met with stiff opposition by Lamont and his administration,” who “refused to heed Plaintiff’s advice.”
Coleman-Mitchell further objected to Lamont’s appointment of state Chief Operating Officer and Commissioner of Administrative Services Josh Geballe, a white man much younger than her, to lead the state’s actions to combat COVID. Geballe, the complaint notes, is not a physician and does not possess a master’s degree in public health.
The former commissioner insists that she was essentially made subordinate to Geballe as well as another white male, Matt Carter, who she said Geballe put in charge of public statements on COVID in Connecticut. Coleman-Mitchell said her authority was constantly undermined until she was removed from her position on May 13, 2020. She maintains that her level of competence would not nearly justify termination.
“Plaintiff has always performed her work, prior to and since becoming commissioner, in an exemplary manner, never receiving any indication of failing or poor work performance,” the complaint said.
In an unrelated public appearance on Tuesday, Lamont defended his actions, saying, “we have the most diverse administration in the history of the state and I’m not going to allow any type of discrimination to happen on my watch.”
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