A former Westport Weston Health District employee is suing the agency and his former boss for infringing on his right to free speech after he raised concerns about health and safety hazards in the health district office, according to a lawsuit filed Aug. 2 in U.S. District Court of Connecticut.
Louis D‘Onofrio claims the agency and Executive Director Mark Cooper disregarded his multiple complaints about rodent droppings in the district office and clinical areas during his tenure as director of clinical care.
Easton joined the health district, a governmental agency that provides local public health services to the member towns of Westport and Weston, after retirements in 2020 by previous health department personnel serving Easton. Without the option of bringing the matter to a Town Meeting or referendum during the pandemic, the Board of Selectmen voted in August 2020 to join the Westport Weston Health District on a one-year trial basis.
After town Meetings and referendums were reinstated, the health district was placed on the agenda for discussion and debate at the March 23 Special Town Meeting. Voters approved joining the Westport Weston Health District by a margin of 755 to 551 at the March 30 referendum.
First Selectman David Bindelglass said he was aware of the lawsuit but couldn’t comment on a legal matter. Cooper could not be reached for comment.
According to the lawsuit, after D’Onofrio’s continued concerns about safety and hazard warnings went unaddressed, he complained to the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency, which inspected the WWHD’s 180 Bayberry Lane office in June 2019.
The inspection found multiple health and safety violations, according to the lawsuit, including that the office’s “Material Safety Data sheets had not been updated in over a decade. Unlabeled bottles of chemicals where improperly stored where they could harm staff or visitors.”
The lawsuit claims that after the inspection, D’Onofrio continued to observe rodent droppings. Rodents had chewed through raincoats and jackets worn by health district employees during inspections and left in the office.
The lawsuit also states that on April 21 and April 23 2021, D’Onofrio spoke with the Westport police chief and a detective about the “possible financial mismanagement of district funds in the approximate amount of $73,000 of ‘unclassified’ medical services.”
Shortly after, D’Onofrio claims that Cooper “initiated an investigation into a fictitious vaccine matter” and questioned him about missing Hep-B vaccines.
On or about February 2020, D’Onofrio claims in the lawsuit Cooper stopped him in the hallway and threatened to eliminate his job because “the district had lost approximately $70,000.”
The lawsuit states that “prior to Cooper’s threat of job elimination, D’Onofrio had questioned him seeking an explanation for budgetary losses that Cooper had placed in the clinic “unclassified” budget section. Cooper was unable to explain to D’Onofrio what this $70,000 was used for and how it had left the clinic.”
In May, Cooper took away D’Onofrio’s bonus, and in June locked up the materials D’Onoforio needed to perform his job as director of clinical service, according to the lawsuit.
D’Onofrio resigned on June 16 citing “intolerable” working conditions. He is seeking a trial jury, full back pay, compensatory damages for emotional distress, inconvenience, mental anguish, punitive damages and attorney fees and costs.