Connecticut’s Public Health Department has settled a federal lawsuit brought by its former commissioner, Renee Coleman-Mitchell, according to court documents. Coleman-Mitchell alleged racial discrimination factored into Gov. Ned Lamont’s decision to fire her at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Judge Janet C. Hall dismissed the complaint on Friday, two days after both parties emerged from a five-and-a-half-hour settlement hearing in Hartford with an apparent agreement.
The Office of the Attorney General confirmed the tentative agreement in an email last week but declined to discuss details until it was finalized. Coleman-Mitchell’s attorney, Cynthia Jennings, did not respond to a request for comment left last week.
The governor’s office did not immediately provide comment on the settlement Tuesday.
The complaint stemmed from Lamont’s abrupt dismissal of Coleman-Mitchell, a Black woman, in May of 2020 at the height of the pandemic. The lawsuit argued that the administration side-lined her management of the state’s virus response in favor of former state Chief Operating Officer Josh Geballe, a younger white man.
On May 11, Geballe notified Coleman-Mitchell she had been fired and that Lamont had decided to go in a “different direction,” according to the complaint.
“Governor Lamont’s ‘different direction’ was biased and discriminatory and 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,” Jennings wrote.
The governor has broadly dismissed allegations of racial discrimination within his administration.
“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 in May of 2020.
Following Coleman-Mitchell’s exit, Lamont named Dr. Deidre Gifford, then his social services commissioner, as an interim chief of the Public Health Department. In July 2021, he appointed Dr. Manisha Juthani to the post. Gifford has since taken the helm of the state Office of Health Strategy.
Coleman-Mitchell was hired in 2019. During her short tenure she publicly resisted the governor’s decision to release school immunization data. Lamont eventually overruled her.
Last year, Coleman-Mitchell appeared with Lamont’s political opponent, Republican Bob Stefanowski, and accused the governor of endangering nursing home residents during the pandemic.