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Ex-Hawaii health department worker files lawsuit over firing

July 8, 2021 GMT

HONOLULU (AP) — A former epidemiologist for Hawaii’s health department alleges in a lawsuit that she was fired in retaliation for speaking out about the state’s COVID-19 contact tracing program.

Last year, Jennifer Smith accused the department of lying about how many contact tracers were on staff, saying the number was much lower than officials claimed.

Health department and attorney general officials declined to comment the lawsuit filed Wednesday.

“I definitely believe that I’m being punished for speaking out last year about the failures of leadership to increase capacity to respond appropriately to the outbreak,” she told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Smith said supervisors accused her of inappropriate social media posts and releasing confidential information, which she denies.

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“This is public employment,” said her attorney, Carl Varaday. “This isn’t working for General Motors or Tesla or Apple, Amazon, where they can kick you to the curb by the way you part your hair. Public employees enjoy protections constitutionally and statutorily.”

The lawsuit asks that Smith be reinstated to her job, receive back pay and yet-to-be-determined damages.