For more than 16 months, the Westport Weston Health District has been at the center of the COVID fight.
Now, executive director Mark Cooper is in the hot seat.
Last month, Louis D’Onofrio Jr. resigned as WWHD director of clinical care. This month, he sued his former boss.
The suit, filed in District Court, charges Cooper with retaliation against D’Onofrio, after he tried to address alleged health and safety hazards in the Health District office.
D’Onofrio made multiple complaints about rodent droppings, which he says Cooper disregarded.
D’Onofrio says he then complained to the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency, which inspected the premises in June 2019. The suit says that CIRMA found that safety data sheets had not been updated in over a decade, and that unlabeled bottles of chemicals where improperly stored where they could harm staff or visitors.
D’Onofrio says that Cooper did not review and resolve the concerns. Rodent droppings continued. D’Onofrio says that rodents also chewed through raincoats and jackets worn by employees.
This past April, D’Onofrio said he spoke with the Westport Police Department about concerns of possible financial mismanagement. He says approximately $73,000 was part of “unclassified” medical services.
After D’Onofrio spoke with the WWHD board chair about his financial and safety concerns, he alleges that Cooper “initiated an investigation into a fictitious vaccine matter.”
D’Onofrio also says that Cooper threatened to eliminate his position, because the district had lost approximately $70,000.
In May, D’Onofrio charges, Cooper took away a bonus, with “no valid cause.”
D’Onofrio submitted his resignation on June 16, “because of the intolerable condition of being required to continue to work in a setting that was hazardous to health and safety of himself, co-workers, and members of the public.”
D’Onofrio charges infringement of his free speech rights, and unlawful employment practices. He seeks a jury trial, and asks for compensatory and punitive damages.
“I wish things had never gotten this far,” D’Onofrio told “06880.” “I love my career helping people. Our staff did everything to combat the pandemic. They should not be surrounded by such horrible conditions. I just wanted him to clean the office.”
Asked to respond, Cooper told “06880”:
I am certainly aware of the report since I approved the request to have CIRMA, the WWHD’s insurance carrier, conduct the voluntary assessment. The request to have CIRMA conduct the assessment was made to help staff prepare for our outpatient clinic license application to the State, as well as to identify any potential risks so they could be addressed.
The inspection was conducted over 2 years ago with the report noting that: “It is with the utmost appreciation to the Westport Weston Health District staff for time dedicated to assisting in this project. The coordination of on-site visit went extremely well…”
The inspection resulted in several recommendations to address. All of CIRMA’s recommendations were corrected and clearly did not impede approval and issuance of WWHD’s clinic license.
Although not included in the lawsuit, D’Onofrio also told “06880” that Cooper refused to wear a mask in the office, and left the state for long weekends during the pandemic but did not quarantine upon his return.
Cooper did not reply to emails and text messages asking for responses to those allegations.