Zach Thompson forced out as Dallas health director

Dallas County health director forced out

DALLAS - DALLAS -- The long-time director of Dallas County’s Health and Human Services Department has been forced out after a woman made an allegation of sexual harassment, according to multiple high-level county sources.

Zachary Thompson was fired by County Administrator Darryl Martin Wednesday as a result of the allegations, the sources said. 

James Hunnicutt, an attorney who presents the woman, confirmed that the county was given notice of the allegations. He told WFAA that there was more than one instance of sexual harassment with Thompson and that it included both verbal and physical allegations.

“My client has alleged that the county did not respond adequately or in a timely manner to protect her,” he told WFAA. 

Hunnicutt did not elaborate and said that his client is contemplating potential litigation.

A tweet issued from the DCHHS account said that Thompson was “no longer with Dallas County” as of Dec. 29.  Ganesh Shivaramaiyer, the department’s assistant director, has been appointed as interim director.

The tweet referred all media inquiries to Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. A statement from Jenkins said Thompson was terminated Wednesday. 

A reporter who went by Thompson’s Cedar Hill home Thursday night saw him inside, but he refused to come to the door. He was slated to retire Jan. 31.

Anthony Lyons, an attorney representing Thompson, says he found out he had been fired from the media. He says no one from the county contacted Thompson about the allegations.

“He was not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations,” Lyons said. “It’s a weird and bizarre set of events.”

Lyons says Thompson has not received the termination letter.

He says Thompson notified the county nine months ago via email that he was retiring at the end of January.

“It’s shocking and very embarrassing for him,” Lyons said.

Lyons added that Thompson was not escorted from the building as sources had claimed. He said Thompson hadn't been at work since December because he was burning his comp time prior to retiring.

According to county sources with knowledge of the situation, the woman made the allegation of sexual harassment against Thompson with Human Resources last week. The woman is a manager in the health department, the sources said.

Late last week, the woman’s attorney sent a letter to the county demanding she no longer be required to report to Thompson, the sources said. The demand letter claimed the woman had DNA evidence, sources said.

The DA’s office was consulted on whether Thompson could be fired.

Thompson has been with the county health department since 1996 when he was hired as an HIV program manager. He was promoted to deputy director later that year. He served in that position until 2004 when he was promoted to director of the department.

Thompson made national news for being at the helm of the Dallas health department during the West Nile outbreak in 2012 and when the first patient diagnosed with Ebola in the United States was brought here in 2014.

His name had already been removed from the DCHHS website as of late Thursday afternoon.

Thompson previously served as an instructor at Eastfield College. He taught there in the fall, according to the school, and is not teaching there next semester.

Thompson earned an associate degree from El Centro College before transferring to UTA, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in social work. He obtained a master’s degree from Amber University. He led the West Dallas Community Center for 13 years prior to his hiring by the county health department.

The Spencer Scott Law Firm that is representing the woman, released a statement Friday afternoon. The statement alleges Thompson had a "pattern and practice of sexual abuse, harassment, intimidation, and retaliation by Mr. Thompson."  

The Spencer Scott Law Firm is representing a Dallas County employee alleging sexual harassment by Zachary Thompson. Our client has alleged a pattern and practice of sexual abuse, harassment, intimidation, and retaliation by Mr. Thompson. After receipt of the allegations, Dallas County officials failed to take adequate steps to rectify the situation and protect the victim.
 
We look forward to working with Dallas County officials to ensure safety, closure, and justice for this employee and to ensure additional employees do not fall victim to the same harassment our client experienced.
 
The termination of Mr. Thompson this week is a step forward for our client and a sign as to the serious nature and validity of her claim. She is eager to work in an environment without the constant mental anguish and fear of when the next instance of harassment or retaliation might occur.
 
To protect her privacy and that of her family and colleagues, my client will remain unnamed and will not participate in press interviews. At this time and in the interest of a swift resolution, we will not share additional details regarding the situation and ask members of the public and media to respect this  decision.

Statement of Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins on firing of Zachary Thompson by wfaachannel8 on Scribd

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