by Jon Styf
Michelle Fiscus, Tennessee’s former top vaccine officer, has sued the Tennessee Department of Health and its top two officers over her firing in July.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Nashville, says Fiscus is suing for injunctive relief and damages caused by the firing and “defamatory statements” she claims were made by Department of Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey and Chief Medical Officer Tim Jones.
The lawsuit says Fiscus asked for a name-clearing hearing but was denied.
Fiscus was fired by the state in early July, and, after her firing, the Department of Health released a memo from Jones outlining the reasons for her termination.
“[Communicable and Environmental Diseases and Emergency Preparedness Division] leadership and TDH Human Resources received multiple complaints from program staff regarding [Fiscus’] management style, treatment of employees, and poor program morale,” the memo said.
Fiscus said she did not see the letter until after it was sent to the media. She claimed her firing was related to a memo she sent to vaccine providers about the Mature Minor Doctrine, showing case law from 1987, and interpreted it to mean minors could choose to get health care, including a vaccine, without parental consent.
“The letter should have been reviewed by both leadership and departmental legal counsel,” Jones wrote in his July 9 memo to Piercey about Fiscus’ termination. “However, Dr. Fiscus did not share the letter nor otherwise include any of these parties in the drafting process prior to sending it out. This action resulted in confusion of both law and policy for private providers, parents, and legislators.”
Fiscus’ lawsuit, which was filed Thursday, shows an email in which she received the interpretation of the Mature Minor Doctrine on May 6 from Grant Mullins, a Department of Health attorney. Fiscus’ lawsuit says her memo is verbatim what she was sent by Mullins.
Fiscus’ lawsuit claims Jones’ memo includes “false and stigmatizing allegations,” including “accusations of financial impropriety and self-dealing regarding Dr. Fiscus’s role with ImmunizeTN.”
The lawsuit says Fiscus was accused of providing funds to ImmunizeTN but that she actually has no financial interest in the nonprofit and only serves in an advisory role.
Fiscus cited a 2019 review of her work from Jones that commended her involvement in the nonprofit, stating “[Dr. Fiscus] has taken the initiative to start a statewide coalition [ImmunizeTN] which has been very successful.”
Fiscus said she sent a formal letter to Mullins and the Department of Health regarding a name-clearing hearing but was denied. Her lawsuit says she will be selling her home and moving to Virginia.
“This relocation is necessary because of the damage to her reputation in Tennessee, which has effectively foreclosed further opportunities to work in public health in this State,” the lawsuit reads.
Fiscus’ lawsuit says she was officially fired July 12 but the decision was made July 8 during a meeting between Piercey, Gov. Bill Lee and leaders from the Tennessee Legislature’s Government Operations Committee; one day before Jones’ termination letter.
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Jon Styf is a reporter at The Center Square.
Photo “Dr. Michelle Fiscus” by tennessean.com.