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Former Connecticut DPH chief Coleman-Mitchell settles termination suit

Renée Coleman-Mitchell, commissioner of public health, with Gov. Ned Lamont in September 2019.
Mark Pazniokas
/
CT Mirror
Renée Coleman-Mitchell, commissioner of public health, with Gov. Ned Lamont in September 2019.

Renée D. Coleman-Mitchell, who was dismissed by Gov. Ned Lamont as Connecticut’s commissioner of public health in the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, has settled her federal wrongful termination suit with the state for $200,000.

The settlement signed Monday requires the state to pay $160,000 to the former commissioner for “compensatory damages for emotional distress, personal physical injuries, and physical sickness” and $40,000 to her lawyer, Cynthia R. Jennings, for legal fees and costs.

It offers no admission of wrongdoing and essentially places a gag order on both parties, with a further promise by Coleman-Mitchell that she “not solicit public discussion of this matter on her behalf.” The settlement itself is a public document and a copy was provided by the attorney general’s office.

During the 2022 campaign for governor, Coleman-Mitchell had discussed her grievances with the Lamont administration in various public settings, including a press conference with the governor’s Republican opponent, Bob Stefanowski.

“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 Plaintiff further agrees that she will not solicit public discussion of this matter on her behalf,” the settlement says.

The deal bars Coleman-Mitchell from seeking or accepting future employment with the state Department of Public Health.

The deal was signed by Coleman-Mitchell and Alayna Stone, the chief of civil litigation for the attorney general’s office, and suit was formally dismissed. CT News Junkie reported on Aug. 29 after a settlement conference that a tentative deal was struck, but no details were public until Monday.

It requires the state to change records of her dismissal in its personnel system from “unclassified appointment discontinued” to “resigned in good standing.” Coleman-Mitchell was a political appointee who served at the pleasure of the governor.

“It is expressly agreed and understood that this Agreement is not an admission of any kind by DPH, the State of Connecticut, or any other agency or present or former officer, agent, servant or employee of DPH and/or the State of Connecticut, of any liability or wrongdoing whatsoever,” the agreement states.

In addition to the compensatory damages and legal costs, the state will pay $1,249 to resolve an unemployment compensation overpayment.

The governor’s office announced her abrupt exit in a press release on May 12, 2020, two months after the confirmation of the first COVID case in Connecticut. It offered no characterization of her departure, neither calling it a firing or a resignation, though Lamont later said she had been terminated.

“I just had to make a decision,” Lamont said at the time. “I thought this was a good time to make a change.”

Three months later, she publicly accused the governor and his administration of discriminatory treatment, saying she was shut out of key policy discussions and dismissed from her job without cause.

Coleman-Mitchell, who is Black, said at a press conference with Stefanowski shortly before Election Day last year that she was fired due to her race, gender and age, not because the governor had lost confidence in her leadership at a pivotal juncture.

“I became disillusioned and disappointed when I experienced racial discrimination, resulting in unwarranted oppression that I endured from the intentional efforts of the governor and his administration to humiliate, erase, discredit and cruel attempts to ruin my 30-plus-year, blemish-free reputation and contributions to public health,” Coleman-Mitchell said.

Lamont chose a white male, Josh Geballe, who also was the state’s chief operating officer, to coordinate the state’s response in consultation with Dr. Deidre Gifford, the social services commissioner who temporarily took over DPH.

A year later, Lamont named Dr. Manisha Juthani, a physician of infectious diseases at the Yale School of Medicine, as the permanent commissioner.

When hired in early 2019, Coleman-Mitchell was executive director for Cougar Health Services at Washington State University. She previously had worked for the Connecticut Department of Public Health for 14 years before leaving as a section chief. She previously was the deputy health director in Hartford and the executive director of a health clinic in Meriden.

Coleman-Mitchell has a master’s in public health from Yale University and a bachelor’s from Connecticut College.

Launched in 2010, The Connecticut Mirror specializes in in-depth news and reporting on public policy, government and politics. CT Mirror is nonprofit, non-partisan, and digital only.