A former top administrator at the Minnesota Department of Health alleges she was wrongfully fired last year in retaliation for raising concerns about a hostile work environment.
Nancy A. Omondi, a former director of the department’s health regulation division, said she repeatedly attempted to notify senior leaders at the agency of a pattern of harassment, bullying and discrimination at the division she oversaw, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court. In response, Omondi said, she was verbally berated, reprimanded and ultimately terminated last November from her position at the health department.
“These actions … were so severe or pervasive that they altered the terms of [Omondi’s] employment and created a hostile work environment,” the lawsuit alleges.
Omondi’s dismissal became public late last year amid a period of turmoil at the Office of Health Facility Complaints (OHFC), an office within the health regulation division that investigates allegations of abuse and neglect in senior care facilities and other licensed health care providers. At the time, the OHFC had fallen deeply behind in its investigations, and employees were so overwhelmed by backlogged cases that they were dumping written complaints into recycling bins without reviewing them and letting complaints go unexamined for months, frustrating victims and their families, according to a Star Tribune report. Omondi’s firing, combined with those reports, triggered calls by lawmakers for an investigation into management practices at the OHFC.
The Legislative Auditor released a scathing report in March, saying the OHFC was plagued with a “dysfunctional” office culture marked by high staff turnover, few written policies and a lack of confidence in senior leadership. Under pressure from legislators and families of elder abuse victims, state health officials have since made dramatic improvements, virtually eliminating the huge backlog of uninvestigated maltreatment complaints, according to the agency’s weekly reports.
In a written statement, the state Department of Health said it coordinated with the Minnesota Management and Budget Office to hire an outside law firm to conduct an investigation into Omondi’s allegations.
“In the end, the thorough investigation of her allegations did not substantiate the claims,” the agency said. “We stand by the actions we have taken and continue to take to ensure accountability for managers and staff.”
Omondi, 43, is a health research scientist from Brooklyn Park who was born in Kenya and graduated from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. She worked at the health department from Sept. 19, 2016, to Nov. 29, 2018.
In her lawsuit, Omondi alleges that she was repeatedly warned against raising concerns about harassment and bullying within the agency by one of her supervisors. She said she was fired three days after filing an 11-page, formal complaint alleging multiple workplace violations. She was also fired a day before she was scheduled to meet with a representative with the Legislative Auditor’s Office, according to the complaint.
At one point, the lawsuit alleges, Omondi was told she lacked “sufficient stamina” to do her job because she was a woman.
Omondi, who declined to comment, now works as a director at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.