Lawsuit alleges Missouri House staffer was fired for complaining about lack of masks

The Missouri House floor for the 2019 State of the State address.
The Missouri House chambers during the 2019 State of the State address (photo courtesy of the Missouri Governors Office).

A former employee of the Missouri House of Representatives filed a lawsuit this week alleging he was fired for raising concerns to legislative leadership about the lack of a statehouse mask mandate.

Tad Mayfield had worked as a staffer in the Missouri House since 2011. His last full year of employment was 2019, where he earned roughly $50,000. 

His lawsuit, which was filed Monday in Cole County Circuit Court, centers on complaints he made to his supervisor — and later to legislative leaders in both the House and Senate — about the fact that there is no requirement that lawmakers, staff and visitors wear a mask while in the Capitol to combat the spread of COVID-19. 

Mayfield believes he was fired because he “exercised his rights guaranteed by the First Amendment by speaking out before all of the defendants upon matters of public concern.”

He’s asking the court to reinstate him to his former position and award punitive damages.

The lawsuit specifically names as defendants Elijah Haahr, who was speaker at the time Mayfield was terminated; House Clerk Dana Miller; House Human Resources Director Judy Kempker; and Assistant House Clerk Emily White. 

A spokesman for the House declined comment.

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 email 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. 

In his email, Mayfield said he wanted to be sure to “acknowledge the efforts you have taken to reduce risks to us, your staff, by installing the dutch door and plexiglas, as well as allowing us to lock the office.”

However, “I assume, since I haven’t heard otherwise, that the House is still not requiring face masks in the Capitol?” Mayfield wrote. “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.”

He added: “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.”

Mayfield was eventually directed to discuss his concerns with Miller. 

Miller provided Mayfield with information about safety measures being taken to protect staff, the lawsuit says.

According to a spokesman for the House, masks are mandatory for all administrative staff. That would have included Mayfield and his direct coworkers. 

The House spent approximately $8,000 for face coverings within the past six months that were provided to all House members and staff, and has implemented CDC protocols concerning cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

In addition to daily maintenance, the House spokesman said staff offices are also being deep cleaned and disinfected on a weekly basis, and hearing rooms and the chamber are being disinfected after each use. Additional measures have been taken in individual offices in order to limit close contact with lawmakers and other staff.

The House has also continues to provide employees the opportunity to work from home when possible.

However, the House spokesman said that while Miller encourages lawmakers and their office staff to wear masks, she doesn’t have the authority to mandate that they do so. 

After discussing his issues with Miller, Mayfield sent an email to Haahr and Senate President Pro Tem David Schatz on Aug. 3, 2020, where he laid out his concerns about the lack of a mask mandate. 

“For the health and well-being of all who enter the Capitol,” his email concluded, “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.” 

Three days after sending the email, Mayfield was on a conference call with White, Miller and the House’s general counsel. According to the lawsuit, Miller informed Mayfield that he could “submit a resignation in lieu of termination but that his employment was ending for alleged poor performance.”

He refused to resign and was fired. 

“Terminating a public employee for reporting a danger to public health or safety violates clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which reasonable Missouri officials would have known,” the lawsuit states. 

Mayfield is asking for a jury trial. 

Earlier this year, 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.

This story has been corrected to reflect Tad Mayfield has been a staffer in the Missouri House since 2011.

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