‘I was harmed’: Former health department employee speaks out after filing suit against Shelby Co.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The former lead of Shelby County’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout is speaking to Action News 5 about the lawsuit she filed against Shelby County.
Dr. Judy Martin says she never falsified any information about expired vaccine doses and believes this lawsuit is her only option in clearing her name.
Shelby County is not commenting on this lawsuit filed by Martin, a former Shelby County Health Department (SCHD) employee, saying it does not comment on pending litigation, but Martin is.
Monday, Martin and her lawyers addressed the lawsuit with Action News 5. Much of the lawsuit focuses on the 2021 Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) investigation into expired COVID-19 vaccine doses in Shelby County.
“I’m the one who reported any expired doses,” Martin said.
In the end, Martin’s employment was terminated as part of the fallout of the investigation. SCHD Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter would later announce her resignation. The pharmacist in charge of the pharmacy where the vaccine doses were stored also left her position.
“I’m a nurse. I was going to do what I needed to do to help protect the county and the county’s name,” Martin said.
Martin says in the end, Shelby County did not protect her.
Martin and her lawyers filed a lawsuit against Shelby County last week because they believe the county defamed Martin’s character in conjunction with her termination.
“I felt I had no choice but try to do something to clear my name,” Martin said.
The lawsuit says Martin requested a name clearing from Shelby County but never received a response back. Martin said her only option after that was filing a lawsuit to clear her name.
According to the lawsuit, Martin discovered hundreds of expired doses in the pharmacy during an unannounced inspection of the pharmacy on February 11, 2021. Martin said the pharmacist in charge had not reported those expired doses and Martin immediately reported them to Haushalter.
Then, days later with the threat of significant snowfall, she says she organized vaccine pods to get doses at risk of expiring into arms.
“The number of doses that was estimated to be needed was not the same as the number that was actually needed,” Martin said. “So, not all the vaccine was administered. That left additional doses.”
The lawsuit says 900 vaccines were administered on February 15, 2021. Following those vaccination events, 700 more doses were discovered to be expired.
Martin says she reported those doses to the local and state health departments on Feb. 22.
“I reported the waste when I was able to,” Martin said. “I was exhausted. I did report when I remembered to check on it and bring it out of my home. I did call the director immediately, and informed her there was some that was there, and that I’m needing to report that.”
Martin says she reported all the doses she was aware of that were expired, and never falsified information or purposefully withheld information to only surrender it when a federal investigation was mentioned.
“[In local media] it sounded like I only reported it because there was a threat of this investigation, which is certainly not the case. I reported it because this is the right thing to do. I was trying to do what was the right thing,” Martin said.
On Feb. 23, she was told her employment was being terminated. When she asked why the lawsuit says county officials said ‘some things have come to light over the past few days.’
Martin says she was blindsided to learn it had to do with vaccines.
“The last few days I was spending all of my energy on trying to save the county from losing vaccine,” Martin said.
Martin says her name was defamed when the day of her termination, Mayor Lee Harris said false information had been given during the TDH investigation by a site manager who had been fired as a result.
The lawsuit says, “Any reasonable person who learned that Plaintiff – a site manager and immunization director – was the only Health Department employee to leave employment during TDH’s investigation, coupled with Mayor Harris’ comments that a site manager had falsified information for TDH and was terminated all on the same date (February 23, 2021) could only deduce that Mayor Harris was clearly and unambiguously identifying Plaintiff as the site manager who provided “false information” and was therefore terminated.”
“I did not withhold information,” Martin said. “I did what I was supposed to do, but I was blamed for being responsible for the loss of the vaccine.”
Martin’s lawyers say she was not treated fairly following her nearly two decades of public health service to Shelby County.
“The county needed a scapegoat and instead of taking responsibility for its own actions, [the county] blamed Dr. Martin,” said Martin’s attorney, Jarrett Spence.
At the time of her termination, Martin chose to retire to keep 18 years of pension benefits.
Martin is looking for compensation for emotional damages, damages to her name and reputation, as well as the damages to her chances of obtaining similar employment. The lawsuit is requesting a trial to determine the amount of damages.
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