JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A former legislative employee has sued the House and several employees alleging he was wrongfully terminated after requesting a mask mandate in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to the petition filed with the Cole County Circuit Court this week, Tad Mayfield worked as a legislative specialist since 2015. As staffers returned to the Capitol in July, at least part-time, Mayfield requested the statehouse implement a mandatory mask policy “to ensure the safest work environment possible,” the petition alleged.
In August, Mayfield sent an email to then-House Speaker Elijah Haahr and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz to express his concerns about a lack of a mandate and request one be implemented. Three days after sending the email, Mayfield was asked to join a conference call with his superiors and the general counsel for the House and was given the opportunity to resign, according to the petition. When he declined to do so, Mayfield was terminated for “alleged poor performance,” the petition said.
“After a reasonable opportunity for further investigation and/or discovery, there will likely be evidentiary support demonstrating that Haahr contacted [House chief clerk Dana Rademan] Miller and instructed her to terminate [Mayfield],” the petition said.
A House spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation but noted the lower chamber spent $8,000 over the past six months on face coverings for members and staff. He noted Miller would also send “regular updates,” including instructions for administrative and caucus staff to wear face coverings and social distance.
The petition requested a jury trial and contended Mayfield has suffered lost wages, embarrassment, and other “emotional pain and suffering.” It asks for Mayfield to be reinstated in his job with his personnel file scrubbed of references to the “improper termination.”
“Terminating a public employee for reporting a danger to public health or safety clearly violates established statutory or constitutional rights of which reasonable Missouri officials would have known,” the petition said.
To date, more than 8,600 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in Cole County, and 118 people have died. Rep. Joe Runions was hospitalized in March 2020 as he battled coronavirus. And earlier this session, the House canceled session for a week amid rising cases.
Representatives struck down a resolution offered up at the start of session to dictate all members must follow recommendations from the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during a state of emergency related to a communicable disease. The resolution failed in a 46-105 vote.
In his email to Haahr and Schatz, Mayfield said:
“It is important to consider, Members from every district in this state are convening in our chambers and then returning to their respective communities to continue campaigning and holding fundraisers for their reelection bids, or assisting in the election of their successors. It compounds an already serious health crisis for Members to unknowingly contract or transmit COVID-19 due to the lack of a mask mandate in our Capitol, and then return home to unknowingly transmit it to their constituents. All this while hundreds if not thousands of new cases are reported in our state every day.
For the health and well-being of all who enter our Capitol, I am requesting that you, as leadership in the House and Senate, adhere to CDC guidelines and implement a mandatory face mask policy for all spaces within our Capitol, excluding the personal office spaces of Members.”
The Missouri House of Representatives, Haahr, and Miller are named as defendants as well as Judy Kempker, the human resources director, and Emily White, the assistant chief clerk for the House.
This story has been updated to include a response from a House spokesperson.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at email@example.com.