Former Bridgeport Official Explains Whistleblower Complaint Against State Involving City Sports Bar

Av Harris, ex communications director for Mayor Joe Ganim, has filed court action against his former employer the Connecticut Department of Public Health for illegal termination of a Covid-related whistleblower complaint. See his statement below. Read Harris Complaint.

Today, I have taken the unfortunate step of suing my former employer–the Connecticut Department of Public Health–for wrongful termination. I want to apologize to the taxpayers of Connecticut for needing to take this step, but the actions of Commissioner Deidre Gifford left me no choice.

I never set out to be a whistleblower, and anyone who knows me professionally knows that I have worked around the clock, 7 days a week during this pandemic to make sure anyone who needed it got truthful information when it came to COVID-19 or any other public health matters. I have always tried to operate with the highest degree of professionalism and integrity, and I have tried to be a resource for anyone who needed help, no matter who they are or where they come from.

For nearly two years, I was a good soldier and a team player for the Lamont administration, and I worked hard to support and protect my colleagues at the Department of Public Health against unfair attacks from all sides.

The facts of this case are extremely clear. On December 29, 2020 I was asked to assist the DPH Commissioner reach out to the City of Bridgeport to seek cooperation from city police officers for a $10,000 fine DPH wanted to issue against the owners of a sports bar in Bridgeport known as Mangoz. The fine was to be issued against the business for violating COVID-19 sector rules on crowd size limits, social distancing and mask wearing by patrons. The bar was the scene of a double homicide on December 20th–a crime that was still being investigated by the Bridgeport Police Department.

After reviewing Governor Lamont’s executive order 9N authorizing the expanded fines, I had serious concerns that DPH did not have the legal authority to issue the fine, and that my reaching out to Bridgeport would start a chain of events resulting in unlawful actions. I was also concerned that I was being asked to potentially interfere with an ongoing criminal investigation, which is against the law.

I tried to raise my concerns to legal counsel within DPH and receiving no response later contacted the Governor’s office. This was pursuant to an established protocol we had been asked to follow by the office of legal counsel to the governor whenever DPH was contemplating taking a legal action that might be high profile or controversial.

It turns out that my concerns were valid, but taking the actions I did cost me my job. I was admonished by Commissioner Gifford for reaching out to the Governor’s office and two days later was terminated from employment. Connecticut General Statutes 31-51m makes it abundantly clear that it is illegal for any employer to “… discharge, discipline, or otherwise penalize an employee because the employee … reports a violation or a suspected violation of federal or state law or regulation, or municipal ordinance or regulation to a public body.”

By terminating me because I raised concerns to the Governor’s office that DPH might be taking unlawful actions, Commissioner Gifford violated the law designed to protect whistleblowers. This unjust action has done me and my family real financial harm during the ongoing pandemic. But the real victims here are the taxpayers of Connecticut. The state has some of the strongest whistleblower protections in the country on the books. These laws exist for an important reason: to give employees a way to report potential wrongdoing in the workplace without fear of retribution. When the employer is the State of Connecticut, whistleblower laws actually protect taxpayers by allowing employees to report abuses of power or
improper use of public resources.

Willfully retaliating against a whistleblower by depriving that person of a job is an abuse of power that has a chilling effect on every other state employee who may also witness wrongdoing and feel compelled to report it. My attorney and I have tried numerous times to engage DPH and Governor Ned Lamont’s office in a dialogue to resolve this matter without litigation, and literally have received no response. Courts exist to provide accountability for wrongdoing. The Connecticut Department of Public Health must be held accountable for Commissioner Gifford’s illegal retaliation against the protected actions of a whistleblower. I hope we get a quick and just resolution to this case.

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3 comments

  1. Av Harris, the whole incident of the sports bar Mangoz looked like a setup from start to finish. I hope that more workers would setup and speakout like you did but it’s not easy.

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  2. From your statement it seems you were on the horns of the proverbial dilemma: an established protocol and a Statute set up a conflict as to what to do, whom to report to, and what would provide authority to someone trying to follow the law, yet not practice law. Why did legal reps for DPH not provide an answer in a timely manner? What is your course of action today relative to Labor Relations?
    Has the investigation and final report on the criminal issue been completed? Or was the Danny P $500 fine the sign that the higher powers were satisfied with consequences meted out for now? Time will tell.

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  3. Av said that he legal concerns that DPH could not have the legal authority but he does not say what those concerns were.
    He said that his concerns were not addressed in a timely fashion but does not say what he considered timely.
    He said that he had concerns that if he acted as requested that would have set in motion a chain of events that would have relied in unlawful actions but again lacks specificities.
    I think he was afraid if he did what was asked then Ganim would be pissed at him and he did not wish that would happen.
    Case closed.

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