Former Missouri House staffer says he was fired for raising COVID-19 safety concerns: lawsuit

Former Missouri House staffer says he was fired for raising COVID-19 safety concerns: lawsuit

Although COVID-19 has been the deadliest global health crisis in more than 100 years, many Republicans have resisted mask mandates in red states — including Missouri, where a former employee of the Missouri House of Representatives has filed a lawsuit and alleges he was fired for raising concerns about the lack of a mask mandate in the statehouse.

The former employee, Tad Mayfield, filed his lawsuit on March 1 in Cole County Circuit Court — and he alleges that in 2020, he voiced his concerns to his supervisor as well to leaders in the Missouri House and the Missouri Senate. Mayfield, according to Missouri Independent reporter Jason Hancock, believes he was fired because he "exercised his rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment by speaking out before all of the defendants upon matters of public concern."

Mayfield, in his lawsuit, is asking the court to put him back in his former position and award punitive damages. The defendants named in Mayfield's lawsuit include Missouri House Human Resources Director Judy Kempker, Missouri Assistant House Clerk Emily White and former Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr.

Hancock explains, "Last March, all employees of the House were placed on administrative leave due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two months later, House employees were instructed to fill out an alternative interim work plan form to facilitate working from home. According to the lawsuit, Mayfield was contacted by White via e-mail on July 28, 2020, and asked to fill out another alternative interim work plan that would include one day a week of covering the office in person with the remaining four days working from home. He responded, copying both Miller and Haahr, laying out why he didn't want to work in person even one day a week."

Mayfield wrote, "I assume, since I haven't heard otherwise, that the House is still not requiring face masks in the Capitol? This is disappointing since the single most important thing people can do to help stop the spread of an airborne virus is to wear a face mask. At the risk of sounding confrontational, which I in no way wish to convey, I think it is important to state unequivocally, by not requiring face coverings, the House has become a hostile work environment."

Later, on August 3, 2020, Mayfield e-mailed Haahr and Missouri Senate President Pro Tem David Schatz and wrote, "For the health and wellbeing of all who enter the Capitol, I am requesting that you, as leadership of the House and Senate, adhere to CDC guidelines and implement a mandatory face mask policy for all spaces in our Capitol, excluding personal office spaces of members."

In his lawsuit, Mayfield alleges that three days after he sent that e-mail, Miller told him that his employment was ending and that he could submit a resignation. Mayfield, who is requesting a jury trial, refused to resign and was fired.

"Earlier this year," Hancock notes, "the House voted, 46-105, against requiring legislators to follow Centers for Disease Control guidance for controlling the coronavirus, including wearing masks. Shortly after that vote, House leadership cancelled a week of session due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Capitol. Rising infections among lawmakers and staff ultimately caused GOP leaders to refuse to allow Gov. Mike Parson to deliver his annual State of the State address in the House chamber."

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned out to be the deadliest global health crisis since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918/1919. According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, COVID-19 has killed over 2.5 million people worldwide and more than 525,000 people in the United States — which continues to be the coronavirus hotspot of the world.

But 2021 has brought some good news about the pandemic. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved three COVID-19 vaccines: one from Pfizer, one from Moderna, and now, a single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Millions of people have been vaccinated, and President Joe Biden has promised that vaccines will be available to all Americans by the end of May.

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