Face the Facts: Former DPH Commissioner Talks About Lawsuit

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Renee Coleman-Mitchell said she was discriminated against by the governor and members of his administration.

And now, the former state health commissioner is suing the state.

NBC Connecticut's Caitlin Burchill had an exclusive interview with Coleman-Mitchell this week to get some specifics on her claims.

Mike Hydeck: "Caitlin, this surrounds her getting fired a year into her job. She says, what did she say happened?"

Caitlin Burchill: "Yeah, Mike. So to set the scene, she gets fired a year into her job, but that's at the height of the pandemic here in Connecticut, right when that first wave was just so high. So that's when the governor said he was going to make a decision, make a change, and he just said things weren't working with Coleman-Mitchell. So they terminated her. He said they were going to go in a different direction, he thought it would be better moving forward. So in our conversation, Coleman-Mitchell says she initially alerted the state about her concern about the pandemic and COVID-19 a couple of months earlier. She said that they should rush to do more to protect the folks living in nursing homes and she tells me that she was met with stiff opposition from leadership. And then once the pandemic and COVID cases started ticking up here in Connecticut, she says she was left out of meetings and left out of press conferences. All of these led by folks who didn't have the experience she did, as with three decades in public health. So in the lawsuit and in our conversation, she says she was discriminated against as an African American woman."

Mike Hydeck: "So she said that race was a reason, I don't know if she also mentioned her gender as well. Look, you caught up with the governor this week, got right to him and gave him the question about discrimination. How did he respond to that?"

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Caitlin Burchill: "Yeah, well, when I first asked him what the lawsuit, he said, 'You know, it's pending. It'll go through the court system, and I'll leave it at that.' And I said, 'Well, you know, with this lawsuit, there's allegations now that your office is discriminatory.' So I asked him flat out, you know, 'Is your office discriminatory?' And he told me, he believes he has the most diverse administration that the state has ever had. And he says people really work well together for the most part, and sometimes he says it just doesn't quite work out with a particular team member. And he left it at that."

Mike Hydeck: "Members of administration are people of color. The current health commissioner is a person of color as well. So where does this go from here? Is there a court date yet? Or is this just still the initial filing?"

Caitlin Burchill: "Just the initial filing, Mike. So I talked with the lawyers for Coleman-Mitchell, as well. They were there as we did this one-on-one interview just to kind of listen in. They filed the lawsuit, they went the federal court route. They said frankly, that they thought it was a better option to go that route than go through the state, when of course they're filing a lawsuit against the state. So now they're waiting to get some court dates on the calendar and they filed now at this. I said, you know, 'Why wait this long? It's been a couple years now.' And they said because they have tried every other option. They said really all their alternatives are out the window including an agreement with the state which they said they tried to do. In the lawsuit, Coleman-Mitchell says she never received severance that she was promised from the state. And she claims that negative things that were said about her after her termination have impacted her, so she's seeking damages. She said she hasn't been able to get a job since that termination, Mike."

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