Ex-Minnesota Senate Aide Sues over Firing after Affair

By Brian Bakst | July 25, 2012

A former Minnesota Senate aide who was fired after having an affair with the chamber’s top Republican leader filed a lawsuit on July 23 saying he was treated unfairly and discriminated against because female employees involved in similar relationships didn’t lose their jobs.

Michael Brodkorb, 38, was fired in December from his $90,000-a-year job as the majority GOP caucus’ communications director after having an affair with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch. She later resigned from her leadership post and declared she wouldn’t seek another term.

Brodkorb filed his lawsuit against the state of Minnesota, the Minnesota Senate and a top Senate administrative official, claiming an invasion of privacy, defamation and gender discrimination, among other things. The lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 — a standard figure in state civil lawsuits — but his attorneys have said they hope to get at least $500,000.

Brodkorb had been threatening a lawsuit for months, and as of mid-May, the Senate had already spent nearly $85,000 as it prepared to defend itself. Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said Monday that he was prepared to go to court rather than settle, so it is sure to spend more.

Minnesota law presumes the state will cover expenses, attorney fees, fines and settlements for public employees facing litigation connected to their jobs as long as they weren’t willfully neglectful or guilty of malfeasance. While Brodkorb won’t be entitled to state-paid attorneys, anyone who is deposed or named in the case probably will be.

Senate Secretary Cal Ludeman fired Brodkorb during a tense meeting in a restaurant away from the Capitol, not long after other senators confronted Koch about the affair. Until last fall, Brodkorb also was the deputy chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party.

Koch was the state’s first female Senate majority leader and a rising GOP star after the 2010 elections gave the party control of the Senate for the first time in four decades.

Brodkorb’s court filing said Koch would testify that the firing was directly related to their affair.

Koch declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press. But her attorney Ron Rosenbaum offered a limited reaction attesting to the claim.

“She absolutely believes that and will have significantly more to say on that topic as this legal case proceeds,” he said.

The fallout from the affair has proven an election-year distraction for a state Republican Party in disarray. It holds none of the state’s statewide offices for the first time in decades and is deep in debt. Earlier this month, campaign regulators slapped the party with $30,000 in fines for concealing fundraising associated with a 2010 gubernatorial recount; its former chairman was also fined.

The lawsuit was filed after Brodkorb and his attorneys said they obtained a right-to-sue letter from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Brodkorb’s team declined to make the document available.

The lawsuit said the episode caused him “emotional distress” and “similarly situated female legislative employees, from both parties, were not terminated from their employment positions despite intimate relationships with male legislators.” Brodkorb’s lawsuit said he should have been afforded the chance to transfer jobs.

Ludeman is named directly in the lawsuit, which says he defamed Brodkorb by publicly discussing the case and suggesting Brodkorb was trying to blackmail the state into a settlement.

A staff member said Ludeman was not immediately available for comment.

Senjem, R-Rochester, said the private lawyer hired to defend the Senate would do all it could to protect taxpayer interests.

“I believe the Senate has done nothing wrong,” Senjem said in a written statement. “In fact, the Senate has acted carefully and appropriately in regards to this employment issue. I am not interested in a mediated settlement, and I believe the Senate will prevail in court.”

Marshall Tanick, a Minneapolis attorney with expertise in defamation and privacy law, rated Brodkorb’s chances of prevailing with those two claims better than with his gender discrimination complaint.

Tanick said the state would probably defend the defamation claim by arguing that Ludeman was speaking rhetorically, not literally, when he accused Brodkorb of attempted blackmail. Even so, he said: “That’s pretty strong language and I think when someone uses that kind of language they’re going to be held accountable.”

(Associated Press writer Martiga Lohn contributed to this report.)

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