Florida Data Scientist Fired for ‘Insubordination,’ Governor’s Office Says

May 20, 2020 Updated: May 20, 2020

A woman who said she was fired for refusing to manipulate pandemic figures for Florida officials was actually fired for insubordination, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office said.

“Rebekah Jones exhibited a repeated course of insubordination during her time with the department, including her unilateral decisions to modify the department’s COVID-19 dashboard without input or approval from the epidemiological team or her supervisors,” DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Ferre said in a statement sent to news outlets.

“The blatant disrespect for the professionals who were working around the clock to provide the important information for the COVID-19 website was harmful to the team.”

Jones helped manage the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, which includes updated case counts and other information.

DeSantis, while meeting with Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, told reporters that Jones “is not a data scientist.”

Jones earned a dual degree in geography and journalism at Syracuse University, the university said.

“She’s somebody that’s got a degree in journalism, communication, and geography,” DeSantis said outside a hospital where he and Pence delivered supplies.

The governor said Jones is under what he described as “active criminal charges” for cyberstalking and cyber sexual harassment, adding: “I have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment.”

Epoch Times Photo
Clouds loom over the Miami skyline on May 14, 2020. (Wilfredo Lee/AP Photo)

A police report obtained by WEAR-TV showed a man told police officers Jones posted a website that included naked pictures of him and shared it with his employer and relatives.

Jones in a message sent last week to researchers and people who signed up to receive updates on the state’s portal informed them she was removed from her position as of May 5.

Jones, who worked for the state Department of Health, said her office wasn’t managing the dashboard any longer.

“As a word of caution, I would not expect the new team to continue the same level of accessibility and transparency that I made central to the process during the first two months. After all, my commitment to both is largely (arguably entirely) the reason I am no longer managing it,” she wrote, according to Florida Today.

The governor’s office released an email Jones sent on May 16 in which she relayed that she’d spoken to a reporter. “I said they’ve got a team working on it now, and that what I meant when I said don’t expect the same level of accessibility is that they are busy and can’t answer every single email that they get right away.”

Jones wrote that it was “ridiculous” that she worked so hard for months on the dashboard and that she was tired and needed a break.

An email sent to Jones at her Florida Department of Health address bounced back.

Ferre said in a statement that the dashboard will be updated daily.

DeSantis told reporters Tuesday that Jones sent the email to her supervisor.

“I’m proud of the folks who work on it, and particularly those folks who, you know, the skilled epidemiologists and those folks who are really good and data science,” he added.

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber