Attorney fired from Georgia health agency seeks compensation

ATLANTA (AP) — A longtime state government attorney is seeking almost $800,000 after being fired as chief legal officer for the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Jennifer Dalton has filed a letter seeking compensation under Georgia’s whistleblower protection law, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Dalton said she was unlawfully fired in retaliation for questioning a $14 million, eight-month contract for scheduling COVID-19 vaccinations. The contract was awarded without competitive bidding.

Dalton’s letter said she faced reprisals for releasing emails that became the basis for a Journal-Constitution article about Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Dalton said she was asked to redact the emails, but she believed doing so would have violated the state’s Open Records Act.

The state health commissioner, Dr. Kathleen Toomey, fired Dalton four days after the article was published.

“After a lifetime of public service, she was perp walked out of DPH with a security escort in tow,” Dalton’s lawyer, Kimberly Worth, wrote to Toomey and Kemp.

Worth wrote Dalton’s reputation “is now tarnished by her sudden and unlawful termination,” making it impossible to obtain another state government job. Dalton is seeking almost $800,000 in lost pay and retirement benefits and to cover legal costs.

Toomey spokeswoman Nancy Nydam said the health agency does not comment “on matters of potential, pending or post litigation.” She declined to answer questions about the contract awarded to Reston, Virginia-based Maximus Inc. Kemp spokeswoman Mallory Blount also declined to comment.

Dalton spent 23 years in the Georgia attorney general’s office before joining the Department of Public Health in October. She discovered the health agency’s legal office was a “fiasco,” her lawyer’s letter said. Dalton said the office failed to respond to “thousands” of records requests.