DENVER – A former staffer of Congressman Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday claiming the congressman took “a reckless and dangerous approach” to COVID-19 and fired him for calling for more protections against the virus – something Lamborn’s office denies.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Brandon Pope, a former defense and military adviser for Lamborn who was first hired in August 2019 after nearly a decade in the U.S. Marine Corps.
The lawsuit, which was first reported by NBC Washington, also claims that Lamborn and top staffers in his office did not follow U.S. House rules regarding COVID-19 safety, flaunted measures after some staffers in Colorado and Washington tested positive for the virus, asked staffers to perform personal tasks for the Lamborn family and ignored pleas from staffers to implement more stringent safety precautions.
“In the workplace, Lamborn did not require employees in the District Office to wear masks, claiming that he would not allow House Leadership to dictate how he ran his office, and he did not permit all employees to social distance,” the lawsuit claims.
Pope claims in the lawsuit that he was fired on Dec. 7 of last year by Lamborn’s chief of staff, who allegedly told him he was being terminated “because of an alleged lack of professionalism and abrasiveness toward his colleagues and supervisors.”
The lawsuit claims that the chief of staff “had previously used terms like ‘lack of professionalism’ and ‘abrasive’ to refer to instances in which Mr. Pope had stated his concerns about Representative Lamborn and the Chief of Staff’s reckless response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Cassandra Sebastian, Lamborn’s communications director, in a statement denied that Pope was terminated because he voiced his concerns and that there were workplace safety violations.
“The workplace safety allegations made by Mr. Pope are unsubstantiated and did not result in the termination of his employment,” Sebastian said. “Congressman Lamborn looks forward to full vindication as all facts come to light.”
The lawsuit claims that over several months of 2020 as the pandemic progressed, Pope vocally opposed the alleged practices of the office to higher-ups and stood up for other staffers who had also shared concerns.
But Lamborn, according to the suit, told staffers he “did not care” if his employees got infected.
The lawsuit also alleges concerns about Lamborn’s family. It says Lamborn allowed his son to live in a storage area in the basement of the U.S. Capitol, that staffers were told to help his son get a job in Washington D.C., that staffers had to run personal errands for the family and provide them holiday gifts, and that staff believed they had to accept invitations from the family to events in order to remain employed.
According to the lawsuit, Pope became more vocal about the alleged lack of COVID precautions in October. The lawsuit said the chief of staff “would get angry and defensive” when Pope raised those concerns.
It alleges that Lamborn learned on Oct. 5 that his deputy chief of staff had tested positive for COVID-19 and that other staffers were symptomatic, something reported by The Denver Post at the time, and that Lamborn had slept in his office that week and was in close proximity to his staff. The suit alleges that Lamborn told a person within the Office of the Attending Physician otherwise.
The suit goes on to allege that Pope learned on Nov. 18 that Lamborn and two other staffers working on a Space Force project had tested positive. Pope tested positive the next day, according to the lawsuit, which says that Pope “contends that Representative Lamborn was the direct or indirect cause of his infection.”
The suit alleges that Lamborn’s office violated the Congressional Accountability Act, which gives congressional staffers workplace protections and prohibits them from being fired if they have “opposed any practice made unlawful by [the] Act.”
Pope’s attorney has asked a judge for a trial in the case and to award unspecified monetary damages for “emotional pain and suffering and any out of pocket expenses.”