Former Central Health exec sues for $1 million-plus

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

Larimen Thaddeus “Larry” Wallace,  fired for sexual harassment, claims racial discrimination and retaliation, just as he had in his rejected settlement offer

When the Central Health Board of Managers voted October 28, 2020, to continue negotiations with the agency’s former executive—in effect rejecting his settlement offer to drop all claims for about $775,000—he filed suit the next day in Travis County District Court. (Cause No. D-1-GN-20-006645, copy attached.)

Maram Museitif

Larry Wallace’s employment with Central Health was terminated early last December for sexual harassment stemming from a complaint against him filed by Maram Museitif, a member of the agency’s Board of Managers, in addition to documented previous incidents of sexual harassment. The Austin Bulldog’s investigation of that matter was published October 30, 2020.

The lawsuit “seeks monetary relief over $1,000,000.00.” In addition to money, the pleadings seek an injunction prohibiting Central Health from engaging in “unlawful practices including race discrimination and retaliation.”

Stephanie Rojo

Stephanie Rojo, a partner with Thompson Coe Cousins & Irons LLP, is outside counsel representing Central Health in this matter. In response to The Austin Bulldog’s request for comment on the lawsuit, she issued the following statement:

“Central Health takes all complaints of sexual harassment, race discrimination, and retaliation seriously. Significant factors in Central Health’s decision to part ways with Mr. Wallace included the results of a 2019 independent investigation requested by Central Health, combined with allegations previously made, independently investigated, and substantiated relating to Mr. Wallace.

“In early 2020, Central Health’s Board of Managers was asked to review the organization’s decision relating to Mr. Wallace’s employment separation. Counsel was retained to investigate and to provide the Board with recommendations. In June 2020, that investigation concluded with a finding of no evidence substantiating Mr. Wallace’s allegations of race discrimination and retaliation, and the Board of Managers subsequently voted to uphold Central Health’s decision” to terminate Wallace’s employment.

Colin Walsh

Wallace’s attorney, Colin Walsh of Wiley Walsh PC, did not respond to a request left with his office this morning for comment.

Walsh emailed a press release at 5:37pm November 6 that repeated claims made in the petition and included this statement from Larry Wallace:

“I am saddened that I am forced to bring suit in this matter. I have devoted my career to serving and making a difference to the well-being of underserved and disenfranchised members of the community. I have always treated everyone with respect and dignity and continually invested in the development of others. I am confident that when the facts come out, it will be clear Central Health has unlawfully discriminated and retaliated against me because of my race.”

In addition to the million-dollars-plus sought in the lawsuit, Wallace asks for equitable relief “such as reinstatement, promotion, front pay, and court costs.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states, “Front pay is an equitable remedy, an element of the ‘make whole’ relief available to victims of employment discrimination. ‘Make whole’ relief includes all actions necessary to make a victim of discrimination whole for the discrimination suffered, by placing the individual as near as possible in the situation he or she would have occupied if the wrong had not been committed.”

Passed over for permanent top job

The petition notes that Wallace is African American and he began work at Central Health in September 2005 and had served as interim CEO, but “never been selected as the permanent CEO. In fact, no African American has been.”

Central Health, aka Travis County Healthcare District, has had but two CEOs since the agency was created by voters in 2004. Its founding president and CEO, Patricia Young Brown, resigned at the end of 2016.

Wallace was appointed interim president and CEO effective December 24, 2016, and served in that position until June 12, 2017.

Mike Geeslin
Mike Geeslin
Vanetta Abdellatif

Central Health’s Board of Managers voted April 19, 2017, to execute an employment contract with Mike Geeslin to be president and CEO. The other finalist for the job was Vanetta Abdellatif, who at that time was CEO of Community Health Centers at the Multnomah County Health Department in Portland, Oregon.

Geeslin and Abdellatif were introduced to the public at an event at Central Health’s offices before the board voted to hire him. Geeslin started work in that position May 15, 2017.

Lawsuit alleges Geeslin hire ‘controversial’

“Central Health controversially selected Mike Geeslin, a white male, to take over as CEO. Indeed it was so controversial that one of the Board members, Dr. Richard Yuen, abstained from voting and shortly thereafter resigned, in part, because the Board selected a white male instead of Mr. Wallace who would be better able to reach out to minority communities and people of color,” the petition states.

Larry Wallace was not a finalist for the permanent position and would not have been considered by the Board of Managers.

The minutes of the April 19, 2017, Board of Managers meeting do indicate that Yuen abstained from the vote to hire Geeslin.

Richard Yuen

Yuen is a licensed psychologist and professional counselor with Austin-based Lonestar Psychological Services PLLC. The Austin Bulldog reached out to Yuen through his office, through email, and through cell phone and text messages. He did not respond to confirm the lawsuit’s claim regarding his reasons for abstaining or resigning.

Pleadings air more complaints

Wallace’s petition states that Geeslin knew that Wallace had filed an EEOC discrimination complaint (concerning being passed over for the CEO’s job) and “began to retaliate” against him. First by refusing to place Wallace back into the position he held before being named interim CEO; later by removing Wallace “from critical operations projects within his expertise that had previously been under his oversight” and taking over those duties for himself; and then reassigning five of Wallace’s direct reports to other people. This despite a December 2018 evaluation of Wallace’s performance that did not raise any issues.

“The above actions were not only motivated by Mr. Wallace’s 2017 EOC charge, but also by Mr. Wallace’s race,” the petition states.

The incident that triggered the final investigation of Wallace’s alleged sexual harassment, filed by Maram Museitif, combined with previous incidents, resulted in his termination.

But the petition notes that Wallace has not seen the photographs taken when he put his arm around her and he has not seen the investigative report of that incident performed by the county attorney’s office.

The Austin Bulldog filed a public information request for a copy of the investigation report July 29, 2020. The county attorney’s office filed a request for permission to withhold that report October 14, 2020 and it is still pending. The attorney general has previously ruled the photographs could be withheld.

This story was updated at 10:07am November 7, 2020, to include Larry Wallace’s statement concerning his lawsuit.

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 national 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:

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:

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