A former staffer for U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn is suing the Colorado Republican for allegedly firing him for complaining about his "reckless and dangerous approach to Covid-19" in his congressional offices.
The congressman's lackadaisical response wound up getting Pope, Lamborn and numerous other employees infected with the virus, the lawsuit says.
The suit, which was filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., and was first reported by NBC Washington, says Lamborn and his chief of staff "often mocked safety protocols such as measures to distance employees from each other and the use of masks, and they minimized COVID-related concerns."
"Worse, when Lamborn and other senior members of his staff became infected with COVID-19 in the fall of 2020, Lamborn refused to implement or follow reasonable and responsible COVID-19 protocols, resulting in the widespread transmission of the virus throughout both the District and Washington, D.C. offices," the suit says.
Lamborn's communication director Cassandra Sebastian denied the allegations to NBC Washington, saying that “The workplace safety allegations made by Mr. Pope are unsubstantiated and did not result in the termination of his employment."
The lawsuit describes Pope as a former Marine captain who served in Afghanistan and who first went to work for Lamborn as a Wounded Warrior fellow in 2019.
The suit says Lamborn "consistently disregarded ethical rules and norms that apply to Members of Congress," including using staffers to do tasks for his wife and son, including moving furniture. The suit also says at one point, Lamborn "gave his son the necessary access to live in a storage area in the basement of the U.S. Capitol for a period of weeks" when the son was moving to Washington for work.
Pope said Lamborn and his wife were quick to dismiss Covid-19 in March of last year, when the virus was shutting down the country.
"In the March and April 2020 timeframe, the District Office staff had meetings with Representative Lamborn and his wife, during which Representative Lamborn and Mrs. Lamborn both claimed that COVID was a hoax and asserted that the pandemic was being used to alter the course of the congressional and presidential elections," the suit says.
The suit says Lamborn and the chief of staff ignored Pope's entreaties to let staffers work from home, and when there was an outbreak in both his Colorado district and Washington offices in October, staffers were told not to tell anyone.
The following month, "after an important meeting for Space Force that Mr. Pope had organized, which Rep. Lamborn had attended, Mr. Pope learned that Lamborn and two additional staffers (who had also participated in the Space Force planning meeting) had tested positive for COVID-19," the suit says.
Pope said he found out they were sick "from third parties," and then the next day, Nov. 19, he tested positive for the virus as well.
Weeks later, on Dec. 7th, Pope was told he was being fired for "an alleged lack of professionalism and abrasiveness." The suit, which seeks unspecified money damages, contends that the real reason he was fired was because of his "vocal opposition to Lamborn’s reckless approach to Covid-19."
That approach, the suit contends, "placed employees and others at significant risk of serious illness or death."
Lamborn spokeswoman Sebastian told NBC Washington that the congressman "looks forward to full vindication as all facts come to light.”