TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A former Florida
Department of Health
employee who was fired for repeatedly violating the agency's policy on communicating with the media
has been granted whistleblower status.
, the employee, had raised concerns about Florida's COVID-19
data after being fired as the data's curator, according to state records. State officials said she was fired for insubordination after being reprimanded several times.
According to the Miami Herald, the Office
of the Inspector General informed her lawyers on Friday that “the information disclosed meets the criteria for whistleblower status as described by... Florida statutes.”
Jones, who assisted in the development of the state's online presentation of COVID-19 data, gained national attention a year ago when she raised concerns about the information being reported by the state at a time when Florida was at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic
, implying that Health Department managers wanted her to manipulate data to paint a rosier picture, and she resisted.
According to the Herald, Jones' complaint demonstrates "reasonable cause to suspect that an employee or agent of an agency or independent contractor
has violated any federal, state, or local law, rule, or regulation."
Jones could be reinstated or compensated under the state's whistleblower laws if an investigation
determines that her firing was in retaliation for the concerns she raised.
Jones told the Herald that, while the inspector's decision was not "vindication," it was "a start" and "a big push forward."
's office and the Department of Health both issued statements downplaying the significance of the decision.
“Whistleblower status does not substantiate any claims; it simply provides confidentiality and indicates that someone made a complaint,” said Taryn Fenske, the governor’s spokesperson.