Judge denies former Tenn. vaccine official Dr. Michelle Fiscus' pursuit for monetary damages

Case for name-clearing hearing will continue
Posted at 2:32 PM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-19 15:32:10-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A federal judge has denied Tennessee's former top vaccination official's pursuit for monetary damages against two of the state's health department leaders.

In September, Dr. Michelle Fiscus filed a lawsuit in what she called an effort to clear her name against Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Jones.

Parts of Fiscus' lawsuit, one asking the court to order Piercey and Jones to provide a name-clearing hearing, and another asking for a "judgement that the Defendants' conduct" violated Fiscus' constitutional rights, will continue in court.

Fiscus was fired from the health department on July 12, 2021, after facing scrutiny from Republican state lawmakers over TDH's outreach efforts to vaccinate teenagers against COVID-19.

Read more: In-Depth: Tennessee's top vaccine official fired

Fiscus claims that Piercey and Jones made stigmatizing and defamatory statements after she was fired.

The suit specifically mentions a letter from Jones to Piercey dated July 9, 2021, that outlined the reasons for her firing, including her "lack of leadership." The lawsuit cited this as an example of defamatory material, adding the letter was never presented to her at her termination and she had not seen it until the letter was released to news organizations.

"The decision to send the July 9 letter, unsolicited, to members of the news media was, upon information and belief, part of an intentional effort by Defendants to stigmatize and defame Dr. Fiscus... Dr. Fiscus’s full personnel file, which included glowing performance reviews contradicting the memo’s allegations, was not sent to the media," the lawsuit says. "The letter contains several false, stigmatizing, and defamatory statements concerning Dr. Fiscus and her character for honesty and morality."

This week, Chief District Judge Waverly Crenshaw denied Fiscus' motion for declaratory and injunctive relief. The order stated defendants Piercey and Jones are entitled to qualified immunity on the claims for financial damages.

On the point of a name-clearing hearing, according to the complaint, when Fiscus first formally sought a post-termination name-clearing hearing in July, her request was denied. Fiscus says Piercey and Jones possess the authority through their official capacities to provide her with such hearing.

Fiscus said in the events following her termination, including the release of the letter and controversy surrounding a muzzle that was sent to her office last summer, she has been unable to find comparable employment in Tennessee.