The Look in Brief

Hearing set on suit brought by former vaccine chief against Tennessee Department of Health

By: - January 30, 2023 11:53 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)

A federal judge in Nashville has set a hearing for March 10 to consider competing claims in a lawsuit brought by former Tennessee vaccine chief Michelle Fiscus, whose highly publicized ouster from state government during the pandemic came amidst political pushback on vaccinating teens.

Fiscus is seeking a so-called “name clearing” hearing — open to members of the media and with her former bosses at the Department of Health required to attend to review the circumstances behind her firing.

Lawyers for the state health department are asking the judge to bring the lawsuit to a close, without holding a name clearing hearing.

The hearing on competing motions for summary judgement comes after a flurry of motions and affidavits from the state’s top health officials were filed in December as part of the ongoing lawsuit, first filed by Fiscus on Sept. 2, 2021.

Fiscus was fired from her job as medical director of the state’s Vaccine-Preventable Diseases and Immunization Program on July 12, 2021, after she circulated a memo to the state’s healthcare providers about the state’s so-called “Mature Minor Doctrine,” outlining when healthcare providers are allowed to give vaccines to adolescents without their parent’s permission. Soon afterwards, Republican leaders contacted the department to complain about the policy, concerned it subverted parental authority.

Within days of her firing, health department officials made a memo available to news outlets that pointedly criticized Fiscus’ performance with allegations that Fiscus and her attorneys say are patently false. The purpose of a name-clearing hearing is to “publicly contest these false charges,” attorneys for Fiscus have said.

Attorneys representing Dr. Fiscus’ two former bosses — the state’s Chief Medical Officer Tim Jones and Department of Health chief Dr. Lisa Piercey, who has since left state government — argued that Fiscus has failed to meet the legal elements required for the judge to order the name-clearing hearing, saying she suffered no harm as a result of her departure from Tennessee government.

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Anita Wadhwani
Anita Wadhwani

Anita Wadhwani is a senior reporter for the Tennessee Lookout. The Tennessee AP Broadcasters and Media (TAPME) named her Journalist of the Year in 2019 as well as giving her the Malcolm Law Award for Investigative Journalism. Wadhwani is formerly an investigative reporter with The Tennessean who focused on the impact of public policies on the people and places across Tennessee.