Leana Wen, Baltimore's former health commissioner, is in the midst of a public battle with Planned Parenthood over her severance package after being fired as the organization's president.
Leana Wen, Baltimore's former health commissioner, is in the midst of a public battle with Planned Parenthood over her severance package after being fired as the organization's president. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)

Former Baltimore health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen on Saturday said Planned Parenthood is withholding severance pay and health benefits owed to her under her contract in an effort to get her to sign a burdensome confidentiality agreement on her way out the door, after less than a year serving as the organization’s president and CEO.

She also said she is shocked to have to address the matter publicly, after the New York Times published an article online Saturday detailing the dispute and quoting from a letter she wrote to the board of the women’s reproductive health organization, which fired her in July.

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“I am very disappointed that this story became public,” Wen said in a phone interview with The Baltimore Sun from her North Baltimore home late Saturday night. “This is a confidential dispute with my former employer over honoring the terms of my employment contract.”

Melanie Newman, Planned Parenthood’s senior vice president for communications and culture, called Wen’s claims “unfortunate, saddening, and simply untrue."

Wen served as Baltimore’s health commissioner for nearly four years before taking her leading role at Planned Parenthood in October. On Saturday, she described the split by saying the nonprofit was more interested in political battles while she was more focused on health care: “I wanted to emphasize total women’s health. They wanted to double down on abortion rights," she said.

The split has come as abortion rights have come under new attacks from the Trump administration and in certain states.

Wen declined to discuss the specifics of her contract, saying, “Even though it’s reported in the New York Times, per my attorneys, I cannot discuss the specific points under negotiation given that this is pending potential litigation."

But she said the terms being proposed for her exit were aimed at silencing her, going beyond existing confidentiality provisions she already agreed to when she signed her contract with the organization.

“They want to silence my voice as a public health expert," she said. “I simply will not sign away my right to speak my mind. I won’t compromise my integrity.”

Wen, who has taken a public health teaching job with George Washington University and remains a medical doctor, said the confidentiality agreement would mean an untenable situation for her.

“I’m a doctor. I have to be able to speak to my patients about reproductive health care. I’m a professor. I have to be able to speak to my students about reproductive health care,” Wen said. “I cannot be gagged.”

She also said financial compensation under dispute with the organization would go toward her attorneys’ fees, toward fees associated with her family backing out of a contract to move to Washington, and toward the removal of “certain security apparatus” at her home that were associated with her taking the Planned Parenthood position.

Newman, in a statement, said Wen has received her full salary and benefits during months of negotiations with the organization over her departure, that she will receive payments through the middle of next month, and that she and her family will receive medical coverage under COBRA through the end of next month. The exit package being negotiated with Wen, she said, would provide an additional year’s salary and benefits “under terms that are standard and consistent with her employment agreement and any reasonable executive exit package."

Newman said Planned Parenthood, which remains focused on serving its clients, also has “proposed language to reasonably meet [Wen’s] concerns about the scope of the confidentiality clause and her ability to speak publicly about issues of importance to her.”

“The attorneys representing the board have made every good faith effort to amicably part from Dr. Wen, and are disappointed that they have been unable to reach a suitable resolution regarding her exit package,” Newman said.

She said negotiations continue with Wen’s attorneys, and the organization hopes to “finalize the package in the coming days.”

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Wen said she was unsure. She said she wanted to stand on principle, to force the organization to honor what she says are the terms of her contract, not just for herself but for other women fighting for fairness in the workplace.

On Saturday night, Wen was at home in North Baltimore with her husband Sebastian, who is in the process of launching an IT start-up, and her 2-year-old son, Eli. She is also currently pregnant, she said, and wants to focus on her growing family.

“Baltimore will be gaining one more citizen,” she said. She’s due in March.

She said she has “no desire to disparage” Planned Parenthood, but to move forward from what has been a challenging time in her life.

“The last three months or so have been some of the most challenging times that I’ve faced. I was very publicly asked to leave as the president of Planned Parenthood, and I also at that time had suffered a miscarriage, and so was undergoing some very difficult professional and personal challenges,” she said. “But I’ve been very fortunate to have so many people, especially people in Baltimore, reach out and share their support and share their stories about their own challenging times.”

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