A former staffer for GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn has filed suit against his office alleging a “reckless and dangerous approach to COVID-19.”
Brandon Pope is a former Marine who went to work in Lamborn’s office in Colorado Springs in April 2019, first as a Congressional Fellow, and later as a Defense Advisor. He claims he was fired in December 2020 “for seeking to protect employees from unsafe conditions in the workplace,” according to the complaint filed in the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia. The protections he sought included allowing some employees who were high risk or who had family members at high risk to telework and implementing social distancing measures.
Attorney Les Alderman said the Congressional Accountability Act protects employees from “retaliation for raising workplace safety concerns.”
Alderman said they’ll have witnesses “who will testify both about Brandon’s protected complaints… and how those complaints led to a change in attitude from the chief of staff towards Brandon.”
When asked on Friday what steps his office took during the pandemic to protect staff, Rep. Lamborn replied that they “accommodated people’s concerns.” He said one staff member who expressed concerns about being around other people was authorized to work from home.
Lamborn dismissed the suit, describing Pope as a “disgruntled employee.”
The complaint alleges that Lamborn did not require employees in his office to wear masks or permit social distancing, saying he would not allow House Leadership to dictate how he ran his office. Currently, Democrats control the chamber and have implemented pandemic procedures, such as masking and social distancing, that some Republicans have railed against.
Lamborn did end up letting his DC staffers work from home after several employees tested positive for COVID last fall, but didn’t extend the policy to his district office. According to the complaint, Lamborn’s chief of staff instructed employees sent home not to tell people they were close to that they had tested positive for COVID-19, which was reported at the time. Lamborn’s office said in November the Colorado Springs Republican himself had tested positive.
Pope tested positive for COVID-19 shortly thereafter. In the lawsuit, Pope contends Lamborn was “the direct or indirect cause of his infection.”
Also included in the suit are examples that Pope claims shows Lamborn’s disregard for ethical rules and norms.
Those include allegations that he allowed his son to live in a storage area in the basement of the U.S. Capitol for some weeks while he was moving to Washington, D.C.; used office staff to run personal errands for his family, such as loading furniture to be moved to Lamborn’s vacation home, picking up mail from his personal residence when he was out of town, or helping his son prep for job interviews; and that staff were compelled to give Christmas and birthday gifts to Lamborn and his wife.
Alderman said these claims were included because they paint a more detailed picture of what it was like to work for Rep. Lamborn.
“Unfortunately, the Congressman and his chief of staff, they flouted not just COVID rules, they flouted all kinds of rules,” Alderman said. “They sort of ran [the offices] as a little personal outpost and did whatever they wanted to do. So we thought that those allegations were important to paint the picture of what kind of things go on there.”
Ethics rules forbid lawmakers from having staff work on anything but official responsibilities. Lamborn dismissed those allegations from the suit.
“Those are a tissue of lies,” said Lamborn, who is paid a base salary of $174,000 a year as a congress member.
He would not say if he allowed his son, who he said moved to D.C. to get a job at the Pentagon, to sleep in his office storage unit or his office. He did acknowledge, “I gave my son temporary housing, as my guest, because the housing market in Washington, D.C. is very tight.”
Several members of Congress sleep in their offices, a practice other members have pushed to end during the pandemic to no avail. Among the arguments against sleeping in the office is that it uses taxpayer dollars for members’ personal benefit. It is almost unheard of to have a guest sleep in the Capitol complex.
Lamborn would not say why he dismissed Pope. According to the suit, the official reason Pope was given for his termination on December 7, 2020, was “an alleged lack of professionalism and abrasiveness toward his colleagues and superiors.”
Lamborn’s lawyer has 60 days to respond to the complaint.
Read the full complaint:
Editor's Note: This story has been updated with comments from Rep. Lamborn and Pope's attorney.
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