Flint woman details data discrepancy discovery of kids’ lead levels
FLINT, Mich. (WNEM) - A Flint woman is sharing her story after she was awarded $100,000 by a jury following her refusal to falsify blood test results for Flint children who were exposed to lead-contaminated water during the water crisis.
April Cook-Hawkins said she worked for the Genesee County Health Department from December 2015 through April 2016. She explained how she first discovered blood test results showing high levels of lead in children.
“I actually found the results in their system, the high lead results, and I asked my supervisor about those results,” Cook-Hawkins said. “And, she was kind of startled to see that I retrieved those.”
She said the supervisor asked her how she got those particular results.
“They were bringing me different sheets that stated low results, where in the computer they had high results. So that’s when I knew the numbers weren’t matching for these children, and I questioned it,” she said.
But her questioning this is what she believes led them to cover up the data discrepancy and put her job performance under a microscope.
“My computer was removed, and when I came in the next day, they just said that it was out for cleaning, but I wasn’t able to access that data anymore,” Cook-Hawkins said.
Carol Laughbaum, with Sterling Attorneys at Law, represented Cook-Hawkins. Laughbaum said her client became heavily scrutinized in the workplace to the point that she was afraid to take lunch breaks. She also referred to an employee bringing in a cat to work, which set off Cook-Hawkins’ allergies.
“April asked to please have the employee who brought the cat in to remove her cat,” Laughbaum said. “And let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is a health department. There are clinical services being conducted here, and there’s a cat being brought into the workplace.”
Despite Cook-Hawkins’ objections and allergies, Laughbaum said the cat was allowed to stay. Cook-Hawkins said she had to receive medical attention as a result.
“Her face was swollen. Her eyes were swollen shut, and the jury was shown pictures of that. The case obviously wasn’t about a cat in the workplace,” Laughbaum said. “But this scenario kind of illustrates the level of hostility she was met with by her supervisor because she failed to go along with this illegal data scheme.”
Cook-Hawkins explained how she was told to mislead the federal government by not showing them critical data and letting them “find it on their own.”
“I’m not finna lie to the federal government,” Cook-Hawkins said.
Laughbaum said when Cook-Hawkins learned she was being fired she asked if she could write a resignation letter.
“She didn’t have an option to remain employed by the county,” Laughbaum said. “She was told that she wasn’t a team player and that she was being terminated. And on April 22, 2016, they called her into a meeting and told her this.”
An attorney for the county claimed Cook-Hawkins’ performance wasn’t up to par, and that is why she was ousted.
“He made the suggestion that April maybe felt she was too good for this position and it was beneath her, but the reality is she applied for this job, and it was advertised as a secretary/data entry position. It paid like $13 or $14 an hour,” Laughbaum said. “It was just a ridiculous attempt at railroading.”
A jury sided with Cook-Hawkins on Sept. 20 and awarded her $100,000. The decision left her feeling vindicated.
“Everything that not only myself, my family, the residents of Flint have been through with this water crisis, it was just a sigh of relief,” Cook-Hawkins said. “Because it was so many things out there saying ‘she’s just lying on us’ and all of that. So I thank God that there was a victory in the court.”
The case had been pending for three and a half years.
Michael Edmunds, the attorney representing the county, was unavailable for an interview Wednesday. However, he released a brief statement:
“I was disappointed with the verdict because I believe my client. However, I respect the jury’s decision and appreciate the hard work they put into reaching a decision. The county is still reviewing its options.”
Copyright 2022 WNEM. All rights reserved.