File photo of former Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

Fired by Gov. Ned Lamont at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, former Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell filed a federal discrimination lawsuit this week claiming the administration didn’t want a black woman leading the fight against the virus. 

The lawsuit filed against Lamont and members of the administration states that in January 2020 she “began to sound the alarm and communicated her concerns directly to Governor Ned Lamont, advising him that there was a need to move swiftly in the protection of nursing home residents, particularly the visitor restrictions, and testing staff of nursing home residents.”

The lawsuit says the “warnings were met with stiff opposition by Governor Lamont and his administration, and they refused to heed Plaintiff’s advice.”

The lawsuit filed Monday by attorney Cynthia Jennings claims that her team was systematically dismantled by former Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe and Chief of Staff Paul Mounds. 

“After his appointment Geballe usurped Plaintiff from performing the fundamental responsibilities of her position. Plaintiff was completely left out of any briefings, meetings, discussions, press conferences, or decision-making while Geballe performed her job duties,” the lawsuit states.   

The lawsuit goes on to state that on May 11 she was contacted by Geballe and told the “Governor was going in a different direction and that she was terminated from her position as Commissioner of DPH immediately.”

News of her firing hit the papers on May 12. “Every newspaper in Connecticut reported Plaintiff’s termination with malicious and false information citing an anonymous source in the Lamont administration purportedly speaking in confidence,” the lawsuit states. “The New York Times, CNN and Rachel Maddow published that Plaintiff was terminated because she was too slow to act on the nursing home issue.”

She said she was told her departure was not related to her job performance and said she “began to sound the alarm” to protect nursing home residents in March 2020.

She said she asked for a year of severance and told she would be contacted about another position. She said she was never offered another position with the administration. She continues to be unemployed, according to the lawsuit, and said what was reported about her termination comes up in every job interview she has had since that time.

At an unrelated bill signing event Tuesday, the governor was reluctant to weigh in on the lawsuit’s allegations, saying the matter should be settled by the court. He said lawsuits were common in and around government. 

“I think you know we have the most diverse administration in the history of the state and I’m not going to allow any type discrimination to happen on my watch,” Lamont said.

Coleman-Mitchell was hired in 2019. During her short tenure she made the controversial decision to release anonymized school-by-school vaccination data as the measles virus made a return to the U.S. in multiple outbreaks. At the time, however, she had to be encouraged by Lamont to release that data after telling reporters that she wouldn’t.

During the heated period of debate over whether to remove the state’s religious exemptions to vaccines, Coleman-Mitchell yelled at a reporter to stop taking her photo during a public hearing. Sources said she had been largely unwilling to do her job, which included educating the public on health-related issues.