A former Minnesota Department of Human Services employee is suing the agency, alleging that supervisors pressured him to delete data protected by federal and state laws.

John Weber, of Cottage Grove, alleges that he was retaliated against when he refused to follow his supervisors’ orders.

“The unlawful employment practices complained of above were intentional and performed by [DHS] with malice and/or with reckless indifference to the [Minnesota Whistleblower Act] …” said the suit filed Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court.

Weber was hired at DHS in 2009 as a “Surveillance Integrity Review Section (SIRS) Data Analyst,” also known as the “Gatekeeper.” His job entailed protecting DHS databases that contained confidential information about Medicaid recipients and providers, and health and financial information.

The suit says he was fired in February 2015 after butting heads with two managers, Jennifer Hasbargen and Robert Cooke, who asked him to delete records, and a third manager, Vicki Kunerth, who demoted him after he took his concerns to her.

The three are not named as defendants in the suit.

The DHS hadn'e been served with the lawsuit as of Thursday and declined comment, a department spokesperson said.

The suit describes the data Weber allegedly was asked to delete as “records and documents” protected by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Minnesota Health Records Act.

Court documents do not shed light on what may have motivated the supervisors’ request.

According to the suit: Weber’s problems at DHS began when he started reporting to Hasbargen, a SIRS manager, in August or September 2013. She ordered him to delete records, and he objected.

That September, Hasbargen and Cooke, a SIRS supervisor, “demanded” that Weber delete records. He refused, and explained that it would be illegal.

On another occasion that month, Hasbargen and Cooke “pressured [Weber] to make fundamental changes in methodology affecting how data was retrieved.”

“[Weber] strongly opposed this change and explained to Hasbargen and Cooke that the suggested changes would compromise the data and expose [DHS] to possible risk and liability.”

Weber reported the issues to Kunerth in October 2013. He asked Kunerth for whistleblower protections, but instead was demoted.

Weber alleges that his refusal to follow orders resulted in a poor performance review and retaliation.

He is asking a judge to stop DHS from deleting data, and for unspecified compensatory damages.

 

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