The former vaccine leader of Tennessee has reached a settlement of $150,000 in a federal lawsuit against the state for her termination during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Tennessee Department of Health has provided a copy of the agreement in response to a public records request, which states that both parties involved in Michelle Fiscus’ case are restricted in what they can say about each other.
The current and former health commissioners, along with the state’s chief medical officer, have all agreed not to speak negatively about Fiscus.
Fiscus is required to respond with a “no comment” if she is questioned about the lawsuit, negotiations, or settlement. Furthermore, Fiscus or anyone acting on her behalf is not allowed to speak negatively about the defendants, including the Tennessee Department of Health, the governor, his administration, or any past or present state officials or employees involved in her termination.
Neither the Department of Health nor Fiscus provided a comment regarding the settlement.
In the summer of 2021, Fiscus was terminated due to backlash from certain Republican lawmakers regarding the state’s efforts to promote COVID-19 vaccinations for minors. There were even threats to dismantle the Health Department over this marketing strategy.
After Fiscus was terminated, the health department made public a letter recommending her removal, citing concerns about her leadership style and handling of a letter about COVID-19 vaccination rights for minors. This decision also faced criticism from Republican lawmakers. The Department of Health disclosed Fiscus’s personnel file, including the aforementioned recommendation letter, in response to requests from media sources.
Fiscus responded with a detailed rebuttal to the letter and also shared multiple years of performance evaluations that praised her work as “excellent.” She also took the opportunity to address the media at a national level, disputing her termination as a result of political motivations from Republican legislators.
In September 2021, she filed a lawsuit claiming that the letter of recommendation for her termination attacked her integrity and ethics, falsely portraying her as a deceitful political strategist with personal motives and someone who misuses public funds.
In her legal complaint, she also addressed allegations surrounding a muzzle that was delivered to her via mail. An investigation by the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, which received attention publicly, revealed that the package was sent from an Amazon account registered under her name and using her credit card. However, the lawsuit claimed that crucial information was not included in the state’s report, such as the fact that the credit card used to purchase the muzzle had been reported as lost and canceled for more than a year.
Fiscus has relocated from Tennessee.
After facing criticism over the state’s stance on minors’ vaccination rights, a law was enacted in 2021 that primarily mandates written consent from a parent or legal guardian for a minor to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This year, the law was expanded to include all vaccines for minors, stating that the parent or legal guardian must give “informed consent” prior to the minor receiving the vaccine.
Several laws have been enacted by Republican lawmakers in Tennessee in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic. These laws limit vaccination and masking regulations.