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Former Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz files $1.4 million claim against health district

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 27, 2021

Former Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Former Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz. (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Former Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz wants his job back at the Spokane Regional Health District.

He also wants compensation for his termination, which he maintains violated state law.

Lutz filed an administrative claim with the health district on Oct. 8.

The claim is a precursor to what could be a civil lawsuit, but it does not have to be. Robert Carlson, Lutz’s attorney, said the hope is that the district determines that Lutz’s claim has merit and will work to resolve the issue out of court.

The health district has 60 days to respond to Lutz’s claim, at which point Lutz could proceed with a lawsuit.

The Board of Health Chairwoman Mary Kuney did not respond to request for comment by press time. Similarly, the district did not plan to send a statement, according to spokesperson Kelli Hawkins.

Lutz is claiming at least $1.4 million in damages for wrongful termination in addition to “defamation, emotional distress, mental anguish and injury to professional reputation” as a result of his firing in October 2020.

In his claim, Lutz maintains that his firing was illegal under state and health district bylaws and he asks to be reinstated as the health officer and awarded the requested damages.

The claim details several examples of alleged political pressure and tension between Lutz and certain Board of Health members throughout 2020, especially when the county was stuck in limited phases due to COVID-19 case rates.

The claim also notes a meeting in mid-June that Lutz had with Administrator Amelia Clark, Kuney and Spokane Valley Mayor Ben Wick in which it appeared that Lutz’s job and performance was discussed but no performance improvement plan was formally given to Lutz. Wick was the chair of the health board when Lutz was fired.

Lutz filed a records request in an effort to see the draft performance improvement plan, but the district did not give it to him, his claim says.

Lutz is also seeking damages for alleged defamation by the health district.

“SRHD, by the acts of its agents, perpetuated and aided in the defamation of Dr. Lutz by negligently making unprivileged false and untruthful statements about his ethics, professionalism, misappropriation of public funds and the performance of his job,” the claim says.

Lutz was fired by Clark on Oct. 29, 2020, when she took his keys and district computer. He was fired formally by the Spokane Board of Health the following week.

Clark is the subject of a state Board of Health investigation with a hearing set for early in 2022 as a result of complaints made against her actions.

The Spokane Board of Health named Dr. Francisco Velázquez the health officer earlier this month. Velázquez served as the interim health officer after Lutz’s firing.

Lutz was hired by the Department of Health soon after he was fired, in a role to support the state’s ongoing COVID-19 response.

“I took a stand for Public Health. It cost me my job,” Lutz said in a statement released through his attorney on Wednesday. “As a public health physician, it has been my responsibility to protect the public’s health and safety. I have done so ethically and with integrity. The motives of others will not deter my advocacy. I will continue to stand for the public’s health.”

Arielle Dreher's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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