Florida Health Department whistleblowers sue agency claiming retaliation

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Two former Florida Department of Health employees are seeking damages against the agency for being fired after reporting violations, which a different state agency decided was likely retaliation.

Part of the FDOH, the Bureau of Public Health Laboratories provides “diagnostic screening, monitoring, reference, research and emergency public health laboratory services to county health departments and other official agencies, physicians, hospitals and private laboratories,” according to its website.

Based in Jacksonville, with locations in Tampa and Miami, the labs can “diagnose rabies, HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis,” find evidence of bioterrorism in clinical specimens and other public-health investigations.

Brandi Lee Wallace, 37, was listed as a licensed public health technician through August 2014. She had worked at the Bureau of Public Health Laboratories branch at 3602 Spectrum Blvd. in Tampa. State records show Wallace’s microbiology technician’s license was delinquent as of March 14, 2017. Her LinkedIn bio claims she has a master’s degree in public health/global communicable diseases from the University of South Florida.

Eva Cristina Quintero, 27, is a former Tampa resident who also worked at the Bureau of Public Health Laboratories branch in Tampa. Her Florida microbiology technician’s license shows as delinquent as of March 14. Quintero is now a veterinary specialist at Washington State University, according to her LinkedIn bio.

Wallace was a seven-year employee of the Bureau of Public Health Laboratories when Quintero began working there.

In a complaint filed March 7, 2017, shortly after her hire, Quintero began observing and reporting alleged violations of federal law, which included “inadequate documentation and training.”

Rejected by superiors, Wallace and Quintero took their concerns to the Florida Department of Health inspector general.

As a result, the two women claim to have suffered retaliation, which led to their termination Jan. 21, 2016.

After that, they complained to the Florida Commission on Human Relations, which they say found “reasonable cause” to believe both women had been subject to illegal retaliation.

Both Wallace and Quintero are seeking damages under Florida’s Whistleblower Act.