Sharon Leahy-Lind, who said her bosses at the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention ordered her to shred public documents and harassed and discriminated against her when she refused, has filed suit against the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and Maine CDC director Sheila Pinette.
DHHS oversees the Maine CDC.
The suit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland, alleges Pinette and others within DHHS violated the Whistleblower Protection Act by retaliating against her when she refused to destroy documents connected to the funding of the Healthy Maine Partnerships program.
The suit also alleges defamation and violations of state and federal medical leave acts, the Maine Human Rights Acts, the Federal Civil Rights Act, the Freedom of Access Act and the First Amendment.
"It's a very solemn and important public matter that I hope comes to resolution quickly and that justice prevails," said Cynthia Dill, Leahy-Lind's lawyer.
A DHHS spokesman declined to comment. The three women at the center of Leahy-Lind's allegations — Pinette, Deputy Director Christine Zukas and Office of Minority Health Director Lisa Sockabasin — also declined to comment.
Leahy-Lind was director of the CDC's Division of Local Public Health. She made headlines this past spring when she filed a complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission claiming, among other things, that her bosses at the Maine CDC ordered her to destroy documents that showed the scoring results for the 27 Healthy Maine Partnerships at the center of controversy over hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funding. She said the scoring was manipulated to favor certain organizations over others.
Leahy-Lind said she refused to destroy the documents because that would have been illegal. When the CDC's deputy director, Zukas, learned that she hadn't destroyed the documents, Leahy-Lind said she was assaulted and ordered to take the documents home and destroy them there. Leahy-Lind said she again refused and stored the records in files at her office.
After that, Leahy-Lind said, she was the victim of discrimination and retaliation, including assault.
Her lawsuit repeats the complaints she made to the Maine Human Rights Commission, with additional allegations of discrimination and retaliation that occurred after she filed her Maine Human Rights complaint last spring.
Because she is now suing, Leahy-Lind's complaint has been pulled from the Maine Human Rights Commission. Dill said her client decided to file suit because the Maine Human Rights Commission wouldn't have the time or resources to pursue its investigation "for quite some time" and a court case allowed her to add claims not within the Maine Human Rights Commission's jurisdiction, including defamation.
Leahy-Lind resigned as director of the Division of Local Public Health in July, saying her bosses made it impossible for her to do her job, treating her with disdain and disrespect, and denying her basic work tools. She is working outside the public health arena.
The suit asks for unspecified damages and reinstatement as director of the division or back and forward pay.
The Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability, known as OPEGA, is looking into how the CDC allocated money to Healthy Maine Partnerships and whether any public documents were ordered to be destroyed. The office expects to report on its findings in late November.
In April, the Sun Journal filed a Freedom of Access Act complaint with the state's public access ombudsman regarding access to the documents Leahy-Lind claims were ordered destroyed. The ombudsman, with the Maine Attorney General's Office, is reviewing that complaint.