The state of Connecticut has agreed to pay $200,000 in order to settle a lawsuit brought by former Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell, who filed a wrongful termination complaint after the governor fired her during the outset of the pandemic.
In a settlement agreement provided Monday by the Office of the Attorney General, the state agreed to pay Coleman-Mitchell $160,000 in “compensatory damages for emotional distress, personal physical injuries, and physical sickness” related to her dismissal. The settlement also included another $40,000, for her attorney, Cynthia Jennings.
The agreement stipulated that the state and its Department of Public Health admitted no wrongdoing through the settlement and included language prohibiting both parties from discussing the case publicly.
“The parties agree that if asked for comment by the press or public, the party or their agents, shall respond ‘we have reached an agreement and have no further comment’ or ‘no comment.’” the agreement read. “The Plaintiff further agrees that she will not solicit public discussion of this matter on her behalf.”
The complaint alleged racial discrimination stemming from Gov. Ned 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.
“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 in the complaint.
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.
Coleman-Mitchell has been publicly critical of Lamont since her dismissal. During the 2022 gubernatorial race, she appeared with Lamont’s political opponent, Republican Bob Stefanowski, and accused the governor of endangering nursing home residents during the pandemic.
Details of the agreement come about a month after Judge Janet C. Hall dismissed the complaint after both parties emerged from a five-and-a-half-hour settlement hearing in Hartford with an apparent agreement.
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.