The Look in Brief

Former Tennessee vaccine chief settles for $150k in reputation clearing suit

By: - October 28, 2023 8:00 am
The State of Tennessee spent $11 million on messaging before firing Dr. Michelle Fiscus for spreading the message approved by Gov. Lee's office. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The State of Tennessee spent $11 million on messaging before firing Dr. Michelle Fiscus for spreading the message approved by Gov. Lee’s office. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Tennessee’s ex-vaccine chief settled with the state for $150,000 in her name-clearing lawsuit.

Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the former medical director of the state’s Vaccine-Preventable Diseases and Immunization Program, filed the suit shortly after her firing in July 2021, which came as state health officials rolled out a campaign to get more people vaccinated against the coronavirus.

She claimed health department officials unfairly disparaged her by releasing her personnel file and a termination memo that falsely claimed she committed improper behavior in her state position.

Fiscus initial sought a name-clearing hearing, but instead took a settlement. 

Judge: former Tennessee vaccine chief suit must go to trial

State health department officials dismissed Fiscus after she circulated a memo to health care providers saying they were allowed to give vaccines to adolescents without their parent’s permission, referred to as the “mature minor doctrine.”

The memo was published during the state’s rollout of a campaign to get more people vaccinated for COVID-19. The campaign supposed to include outreach to teenagers, but state Republican lawmakers complained and raised concerns about Fiscus’ memo.

The state stop promoting vaccinations after Fiscus’ firing.

In a termination memo released to the public, officials indicated they fired Fiscus because she had improperly directed state funding to a nonprofit she created and circulated the mature minor document without permission from her bosses.

But the nonprofit was similar to those already operating in other states and did not include Fiscus on its board or payroll. Fiscus’ bosses previously praised her for taking the initiative to create it, according to court filings. Court filings also showed that a health department lawyer in senior leadership helped Fiscus create the mature minor memo.

After her firing, Fiscus and her family were subject to a slew of angry social media posts, emails and death threats. She has since moved from Tennessee.

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Adam Friedman
Adam Friedman

Adam Friedman is a reporter with the Tennessee Lookout. He has a particular love for data and using numbers to explain all kinds of topics. If you have a story idea, he'd love to hear it. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 615-249-8509.