A former Department of Health (DOH) employee is suing after she says she lost her job in 2020 when she complained about her boss discriminating against her.
Nasseam James accused Raul Pino, then the state’s chief health officer in Orange County, of discriminating against her because she is a Black woman, James said in the suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court. James is suing for back pay, compensatory damages, attorney fees and other damages.
James was the deputy director for Orange County, working for DOH, the agency she is now suing, since 2012.
Pino, who was hired in 2019, went on to become a well-known public face during the pandemic as he assisted Orange County leaders through the crisis and often spoke alongside Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings at daily press conferences.
According to James’ lawsuit, “immediately upon arriving, Mr. Pino began making comments to (James) about changes he would be imposing in the workplace including terminating the Executive Assistant, who, like (James), was also a black female.”
James “would approach Mr. Pino regarding issues she was having with her staff following through on requests made and tasks assigned by her only to be told by Mr. Pino that he circumvented her and changed the requests and/or tasks himself. When asked why, Mr. Pino informed her that he was the ‘Health Officer’ and that he could make any changes he wanted to.”
James accused Pino of making “a number of micro-aggressions, slights, and disparate treatment against (her) because of her race and sex, and (James) also became concerned about how other black and female employees were being treated.”
The lawsuit doesn’t provide details of what Pino allegedly said or did, and her attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
James, who lives in Polk County, said she complained to human resources in February 2020.
“In the process of investigating the Complaint, HR spoke with Mr. Pino and advised him of the Complaint. He became aware that (James) submitted it,” the lawsuit said. “Mr. Pino was visibly upset following his initial discussion with HR and told (James) that if she continued to complain about him to HR, she would have to leave. He began separating (James) from other leaders in the Department and minimizing her role.”
James said she reported back to HR that Pino was retaliating against her and then was fired Aug. 4, 2020. James said she lost her job as a result of complaining about Pino, according to the lawsuit.
She also filed a charge with the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
The Florida Department of Health does not comment on any pending litigation, the agency said in response to a request for comment Tuesday.
Pino made headlines this year when he was suspended at the state health department after he urged health department employees to get vaccinated and complained about their low vaccine numbers.
Pino returned to his post briefly but then quit in April and took over in a new leadership post with Orange County government as the health services director.
Pino declined to comment Tuesday on the lawsuit.