On July 29, former D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA) general counsel Chelsea Andrews filed a whistleblower lawsuit against DCHA Director Tyrone Garrett. The lawsuit alleges that she was fired for questioning the procurement and legitimacy of KN95 masks that DCHA purchased for staff members. Now, the Vice Chair of the DCHA Board of Commissioners, Franselene St. Jean, has been removed from her post. According to a Washington City Paper article, St. Jean alleges that her inquiry into Andrews’ whistleblower complaint resulted in her termination.
According to Andrews’ whistleblower lawsuit, she learned on April 15 that “DCHA sole sourced KN95 masks without following proper procurement rules and that the masks were purchased through a referral” by Garrett’s college roommate. Andrews claims she asked to see a picture of the masks but then received a call from Larry Williams, the DCHA’s Director of Property Management Operations and another personal friend of Garrett’s, “who was upset that she had requested a picture, and defensive about the masks being questioned.” At one point, Williams allegedly sent an email to Andrews and others with a photo of a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “certification of authenticity” with the FDA logo on it. However, the FDA sent an email to the risk team members a day later saying that the mask vendor DCHA had purchased from was “not on the list of approved vendors” and that “the FDA did not issue registration certificates to medical device establishments,” according to the lawsuit.
Andrews alleges she was subjected to hostile treatment from both Williams and Garrett while she continued to question the masks’ legitimacy. She introduced a set of guidelines for future orders of masks on May 13 to team members . On May 21, she was “abruptly terminated, without cause, effective immediately,” with confusing communication implying Andrews should say she resigned, but Garrett stating to others that he had decided not to renew her contract, the lawsuit states. According to the lawsuit, Andrews is seeking $12 million as well as future pecuniary damages.
“The DC Housing Authority denies the allegations made in the lawsuit. Contrary to the assertions in the Andrews Complaint, its actions were appropriate and complied with all policies and procedures at the time of the alleged incident,” DCHA vice president of communications Jose Sousa told Washington City Paper in an article on August 12. “The DC Housing Authority has made, and will continue to make, the health and safety of our residents and employees a priority during this pandemic. DCHA will vigorously defend itself in the appropriate forum.”
When Franselene St. Jean, D.C. Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Vice Chair learned about the Andrews lawsuit on August 12, she immediately had further questions.
“‘I was like ‘What just happened here? What is going on?’” St. Jean told Washington City Paper in an article published this past week. “It was so disrespectful. There was no kind of communication to the board of commissioners. We are the 11 bosses of Tyrone Garrett. There was no communication, no conversations about it.” When St. Jean inquired with board chairman Neil Albert “to schedule an emergency meeting to commission could ask questions about the lawsuit,” Albert “resisted.”
According to the article, DCHA commissioners agreed on an emergency meeting set for August 25, but St. Jean was informed of her termination on August 21. She was allegedly told that “she would be removed because she no longer receives housing choice voucher payments, which is a requirement for the seat she occupied.” But St. Jean claims that her situation wasn’t new knowledge to her coworkers: “she hasn’t received voucher payments for the past two years.” St. Jean told the Washington City Paper: “Everybody in the Housing Authority knew that. It wasn’t like it just happened.”
St. Jean has since sent a letter to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. councilmembers asking for “reappointment to one of the upcoming vacant seats on the DCHA board.” Additionally, the article has listed several questions St. Jean still has for Garrett regarding Andrews’ whistleblower lawsuit, many pertaining to the truth of how the masks were procured.