James Fleming, who is being sued by his former employer, Community Health Alliance, fired back at the health nonprofit in court filings last week.
He denies wrongdoing and accuses CHA of interfering with the federal investigation into Fleming’s allegations that CHA committed fraud.
Fleming responded to the complaint (read the original complaint) Feb. 4 after CHA applied for a temporary protective order seeking to prevent Fleming from talking about CHA negatively.
CHA also filed an amended complaint (read it here) that removed most mentions of Reno City Council member, also CHA’s CEO, Oscar Delgado.
Fleming, a statistician, said he internally tried to resolve what he said were incorrect data being reported to a federal agency, CHA’s primary funding source.
“In 2019 I began to have concerns about the veracity of data that we were reporting to [U.S. Dept. Health and Human Services] … especially on key statistics that to which funding (i.e. grant awards) under the auspices of U.S.C. section 330, is sensitive,” he wrote in sworn declaration. “For example, I first noticed that for years, CHA reported a large (2,000 patients or more) migrant agricultural population when in fact CHA does not serve such a population because there is no significant migrant agricultural population in Washoe County.”
Fleming said he reported his concerns to CHA executives, including a compliance officer, and was “shortly thereafter placed on leave. To my knowledge, I have no record of disciplinary actions or negative progress reports in my employee file,” he said.
While on leave, he said he filed a formal whistleblower complaint with the Office of Inspector General of the federal health and human services department.
Fleming said he was fired the next day after placing a copy of the complaint on CHA’s then Chief Legal Officer Casey Gillham’s desk (Gillham is now CHA’s chief administrative officer).
“I was fired within ten minutes of that point, and no reason was given then or any time since then,” he said.
CHA, in its court complaints, said Fleming was fired for performance issues.
Fleming then began posting on social media his allegations of fraud and negative commentary about CHA executives, including Delgado.
CHA attorneys call Fleming a liar
“CHA vehemently denies Fleming’s claims.” That statement appears multiple times in CHA’s complaint.
They said they were forced to sue Fleming because he “posted to LinkedIn that he had gained ‘limitless access to CHA’s offsite servers,’ and reported on [an executive’s] salary information and CHA’s unduplicated patient count,” CHA’s lawyers alleged.
CHA is represented by the law firm where Delgado’s co-Reno council member, Devon Reese, also works.
Fleming said he was being sarcastic and trolling CHA online.
“I have never accessed CHA servers since the moment I was placed on administrative leave, on or about February 12th, 2021. CHA knows that I could not do so because it uses Two Factor Authentication … to prevent unauthorized access to its system,” he said.
CHA attorneys retorted: “CHA understands Fleming’s ‘trolling’ as malicious and intending to injure CHA’s reputation. Fleming’s admission to lying also makes it impossible to assess whether he has been honest or dishonest about any of the other claims he has made.”
Fleming seeks dismissal
Fleming’s attorneys said they will file an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion in the coming days. A hearing is also scheduled for Friday, Feb. 11, 2022 in district court.
“Mr. Fleming is a whistleblower who was fired in retaliation for his complaints to the US Department of Health and Human Services (‘HHS’) that CHA defrauded the Health Resources and Services (‘HRSA’) homeless medical programs funding in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 for over $1 million per year,” Fleming’s attorneys wrote. “CHA’s lawsuit, and the Motion at issue before this Court, are a preemptive strike by CHA against Mr. Fleming with the goal of preventing him from alerting the public to CHA’s conduct.”
Fleming further said CHA is trying to interfere with a lawful, federal investigation. His attorneys said CHA’s complaint amounts to prior restraint on Fleming’s First Amendment right to free speech on a matter of public concern.
The alleged confidential information Fleming said to have leaked to the public “is derived from information that CHA reports to other agencies and as argued below, is not and cannot be ‘confidential,’” they said. “CHA’s Motion alleges that Fleming released ‘confidential information concerning employee compensation,’ but does not specify what this information is, i.e. whose compensation has been disclosed and how that compensation figure is confidential.”
CHA’s executive compensation is freely available, they noted, and in the public domain through Pro Publica’s Non-Profit Explorer and the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Universal Data System.