Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., ignored coronavirus safety protocols, exposed his staff to the virus and flouted ethics rules, according to a lawsuit filed by a former staffer on Thursday.
Brandon Pope, a former Marine who worked as an adviser to Lamborn, claimed that he was fired in December "for seeking to protect employees from unsafe conditions in the workplace" in a complaint filed in a federal court in Washington, D.C.
The lawsuit, first reported by NBC Washington, alleges that Lamborn, an eight-term representative from Colorado Springs, took a "reckless" approach to the pandemic by ignoring safety rules even after his staff was infected. The complaint also claims that Lamborn flouted ethics rules by asking staff to run personal errands and allowing his son to live in a storage unit in the basement of the U.S. Capitol for weeks.
The suit alleges that Lamborn called the virus a "hoax" during staff meetings in April 2020 before testing positive himself in November. He mocked aides who wanted to wear masks, ignored staffer requests to work from home and urged employees to keep quiet about an outbreak at his Colorado and Washington offices last fall, Pope claimed, adding that he learned of the outbreak among his colleagues "from third parties."
"Well, I don't care about you guys getting it," Lamborn allegedly told a staffer in October after learning of the outbreak. Pope himself tested positive in November.
"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 suit claims. "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."
Pope also claimed that Lamborn "consistently disregarded ethical rules and norms that apply to Members of Congress" and that staff "were compelled to give Christmas and birthday gifts to Representative Lamborn and his wife."
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" after his son moved to Washington for work, according to the complaint. Staffers were also assigned to help Lamborn's son look for jobs in the federal government and prepare him for interviews "by asking him mock interview questions and helping him craft his responses."
Pope was ultimately fired on Dec. 7. He said he was told he was let go for "an alleged lack of professionalism and abrasiveness" but claims he was fired because of his "vocal opposition to Lamborn's reckless approach to Covid-19."
The suit alleges that Lamborn violated the Congressional Accountability Act, which includes workplace safety protections for congressional staff, and seeks unspecified damages.
Lamborn's office denied the allegation.
"The workplace safety allegations made by Mr. Pope are unsubstantiated and did not result in the termination of his employment," spokeswoman Cassandra Sebastian told NBC Washington. "Congressman Lamborn looks forward to full vindication as all facts come to light."
Lamborn described Pope as a disgruntled employee to Colorado Public Radio and, insisted that he had "accommodated people's concerns" during the pandemic, and denied any ethics violations. Lamborn acknowledged that "I gave my son temporary housing as my guest because the housing market in Washington, D.C., is very tight," but did not say whether he allowed his son to live in a storage facility in the Capitol basement.
Emails obtained by the Denver Post corroborated Pope's claim that staff were sent a Christmas gift email for Lamborn and his wife, urging each staffer to give $10 to buy them a gift certificate for the Kennedy Center. Another email showed that a staffer left the office last January to "run an errand for Mrs. Lamborn."
Pope also alleged that staffers were asked to pick up mail, move furniture and help Lamborn's wife "set up a video telecom system so that she could hold personal video calls with her family." He also claimed that other staffers were fired for not attending events at Lamborn's home.
The complaint also claims that congressional staffers were asked to perform campaign work during office time. House ethics rules prohibit lawmakers from using staff to run personal errands or using congressional resources to perform tasks for their campaigns.
"We've been very careful and have conducted a thorough investigation of the facts before we filed the lawsuit and we are very confident that we will be able to prove everything that we alleged, not simply with Mr. Pope's testimony but with the testimony of numerous other witnesses," Les Alderman, an attorney for Pope, told NBC Washington.
Alderman also disputed Lamborn's characterization of his client.
"Brandon was a committed employee who cared deeply about his job and particularly caring for veterans," he said. "The only way you could call him disgruntled is because Lamborn and his chief of staff bristled at Brandon standing up to do the right thing during a pandemic."