Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and top aides have denied discriminating against a gay former state official, saying they weren’t aware of his sexual orientation when the governor asked him to resign and cut his pay.
Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and four aides signed legal affidavits last week denying assertions by former Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey that Branstad singled him out for harsh treatment because he is gay.
Godfrey is suing over what he calls the administration’s illegal attempts to force him to resign from a job in which he handled disputes between injured workers and employers. After he declined to resign, Branstad cut Godfrey’s pay by $40,000. Godfrey’s lawsuit alleges discrimination, extortion and defamation.
Godfrey’s attorney, Roxanne Conlin, said it was absurd for Branstad and others to claim ignorance that Godfrey was gay. She said Reynolds participated in meetings when she was a senator in which Godfrey’s sexual orientation came up before his confirmation, and that Godfrey had introduced his partner to Branstad and Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert at events.
“The question of what the governor knew and when he knew it is for the jury and cannot and should not be resolved pre-trial,” she said.
Branstad’s affidavit said that he asked Godfrey, a Democrat appointed by Gov. Tom Vilsack in 2006, and 29 other appointees to resign in December 2010.
Godfrey refused, saying his job was supposed to be insulated from partisan politics. He had been confirmed by the Iowa Senate for a six-year term running through 2015. Godfrey left in August to become chairman and chief judge of the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board at the U.S. Department of Labor.
Branstad said he evaluated Godfrey, and set his salary at the low end of the range allowed for the job. He said he dispatched then chief-of-staff Jeff Boeyink to request his resignation in July 2011, and inform him of the pay cut.
Branstad said he wasn’t aware of Godfrey’s sexual orientation then, and he has “no knowledge” that any of the other defendants knew.
“I have never heard any of the other Defendants say anything derogatory concerning anyone’s sexual orientation, race, gender, age, religion, ethnic origin or disability,” Branstad said. “I was never a part of any conversation or communication where any of the Defendants discussed doing anything that was motivated by Mr. Godfrey’s sexual orientation.”
Conlin has filed a motion arguing that attorney George LaMarca, who is representing Branstad and his aides, has a conflict of interest and should be disqualified. She argues that each defendant has different interests in the case and therefore needs their own lawyer.
Branstad and the others said in the affidavits they believe that LaMarca can continue representing their interests without a problem. The Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which is headed by Democrat Tom Miller and defending the state, also said LaMarca need not step aside, calling Godfrey’s lawsuit “politically motivated and meritless.”
Branstad, a Republican, has opposed a 2009 court ruling that legalized gay marriage in Iowa, saying voters should decide the issue in a referendum. But he has won some praise for speaking out against school bullying, a topic on which he was holding another event Monday.
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