April 12, 2017
The state has agreed to pay $1.3 million to one of the architects of the Cover Oregon website disaster to head off a threatened wrongful termination lawsuit.
Carolyn Lawson contends she was made a scapegoat for the failure of the state and its contractors to construct a working health care exchange website. The former chief information officer for the Oregon Health Authority claimed senior state officials covered up the truth, content to let her take the fall.
She quit in December 2013 under threat of getting fired. She’s been unable to find work in information technology due to her role in Cover Oregon, her lawyers said. She filed a notice in March 2014 of her intent to sue the state for wrongful termination and defamation, among other things.
Lawson’s complaint was backburnered for more than two years while the state battled Oracle Corp. in a separate but related lawsuit also spawned by the Cover Oregon saga. The state paid $240 million to Oracle to build the exchange and never got a fully functional website. The state fired Oracle in spring 2014 and killed the Cover Oregon project.
The two sides settled in September, with Oracle agreeing to pay the state $25 million in cash and another $75 million worth of software and services.
Critics of Lawson said she was too cozy with Oracle. Lawson counters that the state first hired Oracle for the Cover Oregon and related projects before she was hired.
Lawson claims she was canned because she refused to go along with the state’s claim that Oracle was the bad actor in the Cover Oregon failure. Lawson felt there was plenty of blame to go around: to Oracle, herself and Cover Oregon head Rocky King and his employees.
Finally, according to Lawson’s notice of intent to sue the state, a state employee gave it to Lawson straight: “Somebody has to be held to blame for this — it’s going to be Rocky (King,) or it’s going to be Oracle or its going to be you,” the employee allegedly said. “We want it to be Oracle, but it can be you if you want.”
The Lawson settlement is a large one, particularly for a case in which a complaint hasn’t even been filed. “Caroline feels vindicated by the results in this case,” said Kyle Busse, one of her attorneys. “The amount the state was willing to pay speaks for itself.”
Justice Department spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson declined to comment. While Justice Department lawyers negotiated the deal, it was officially OK’ed by the Department of Administrative Services.
Portland lawyer David Angeli, who also represented Lawson, said he hopes the settlement will help dispel the state’s “false narrative” about Lawson. “We believe this was a coordinated campaign to direct a disproportionate share of the blame in her direction,” Angeli said. “Hopefully, this settlement will help set the record straight.”