Defendant Central Health goes on offense

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Former Central Health executive Larry Wallace claims racial discrimination and retaliation when fired for sexual harassment. (Illustration by Rebecca Melançon)

Even before filing a response in court to Larry Wallace’s lawsuit Central Health issues a press release seeking to undercut his claims

As The Austin Bulldog reported, Central Health’s Board of Managers on October 28 voted to continue negotiations concerning a former executive’s settlement offer to drop all claims of racial discrimination and retaliation for about $775,000.

The very next day, Larimen Thaddeus “Larry” Wallace filed a lawsuit against the agency seeking more than $1 million in damages. The Bulldog’s story about the lawsuit was published November 5. In addition to the damages the lawsuit seeks reinstatement, promotion, court costs and other compensation.

Today Central Health, the Travis County agency that levies property taxes to pay for indigent healthcare services, went on the offensive by issuing a press release describing Wallace’s claims as “baseless and false.”

“Wallace’s resignation was accepted in September 2019, following an investigation into a accusation of unwanted touching of a member of Central Health Board of Managers at an Austin conference that same month,” the release says.

Maram Museitif

The Austin Bulldog’s investigation of the incident found that Manager Maram Museitif lodged a complaint soon after she and Wallace posed for photos—at her request—during a September 19, 2019, EquitySpace Summit at the downtown Hilton Hotel.

Stephanie Rojo

“Central Health takes complaints of sexual harassment, race discrimination, and retaliation seriously,” said Stephanie Rojo, attorney with Thompson Coe Cousins & Irons, LLP, who is representing Central Health concerning Wallace’s claims.

“However, Mr. Wallace’s separation had nothing to do with race discrimination or retaliation. There were significant factors in Central Health’s decision to part ways with Wallace, including substantiated past instances of inappropriate conduct followed by corrective training. A 2019 independent investigation by the Travis County Attorney’s office, along with previously documented instances involving several Central Health employees, led to Wallace’s resignation in lieu of termination.”

Central Health’s internal investigation of Wallace’s claims of racial discrimination and retaliation were not validated by the law firm Bickerstaff Heath.

The agency’s press release notes that Wallace began working with Central Health in 2005 and served as interim president and CEO after the retirement of Patricia Young Brown and before Mike Geeslin was hired for the permanent position.

“During his time at Central Health, Wallace participated in multiple sexual harassment trainings along with Central Health executives and staff, and after one allegation he was required to participate in personalized one-on-one sexual harassment avoidance training. During this training Wallace was explicitly instructed that touching and sexist comments and jokes were inappropriate in the workplace setting,” the press release states.

Wallace’s attorney responds

Colin Walsh

Colin Walsh of Wiley Walsh PC, who represents Wallace in the wrongful termination lawsuit, responded to Central Health’s release.

“Central Health’s press release contains false information and is deliberately misleading. First, Mr. Wallace was terminated. He did not voluntarily resign.

“Second, Mr. Wallace was never ‘required to participate in personalized one-on-one sexual harassment avoidance training.’ Mr. Wallace was asked if he would participate in such training and voluntarily agreed to do so. It is quite disingenuous to try to use something he agreed to do against him.

“Third, in 2018, Central Health determined that Mr. Wallace’s actions did not create a hostile environment.

“Fourth, Central Health has yet to provide any evidence to support its defamatory allegations against Mr. Wallace that additional incidents occurred after the 2018 investigation cleared him.

“In that respect, it is extremely important to note that when Central Health talks about the 2019 investigation, it very deliberately fails to mention what conclusion the investigation reached, if any. That carefully worded reference to the 2019 investigation is all the more suspicious because…Central Health has steadfastly refused to produce even a redacted version of that investigation.

“We are confident that when all of the facts come to light, Central Health’s true unlawful motivations for its actions against Mr. Wallace will become clear.”

‘Bulldog’ attorney weighs in

The Austin Bulldog has sought to obtain the report of the 2019 investigation that Walsh mentioned by filing a public information request July 29, 2020. No one responded to that request for two months. When the Bulldog followed up, the county attorney’s office October 14, 2020 filed a request for permission to withhold that report. The attorney general’s ruling is still pending.

Bill Aleshire
Bill Aleshire

Attorney Bill Aleshire represents The Austin Bulldog in public information requests.

Aleshire said, “If Central Health wants the public to accept Wallace’s firing and accept Central Health’s position on this, why won’t they let the taxpayers know what the County Attorney’s investigation of the 2019 complaint showed?

“The passage of the Texas Public Information Act was intended to put an end to government choosing what it wants the taxpayers to know, or not know, about its operation, particularly when a lot of tax dollars are on the line.”

Photo of Ken MartinTrust indicators: Ken Martin has been doing investigative reporting in the three-county Austin metro area since 1981. His aggressive reporting twice garnered first-place awards from the National Newspaper Association for investigative reporting. Both of those projects resulted in successful felony criminal prosecutions, one for a Williamson County commissioner, the other for a con man based in Austin. You can read more about Ken on the About page.

Links to related documents:

Central Health press release, November 9, 2020 (2 pages)

Colin Walsh’s response to Central Health press release, November 9, 2020 (2 pages)

Larimen Wallace, plaintiff v. Travis County Healthcare District dba Central Health (Cause No. D-1-GN-20-006645), October 29, 2020 (11 pages)

Minutes for Central Health Board of Managers meeting April 19, 2017 (1 page)

Press release issued by attorney Colin Walsh concerning this lawsuit, November 6, 2020 (2 pages)

Links to related Bulldog coverage:

Former Central Health exec sues for $1 million-plus, November 5, 2020

When the Me Too movement collides with Black Lives Matter something’s gotta give, October 30, 2020