Attorneys for former Senate Republican caucus spokesman Michael Brodkorb said Thursday that they would pursue legal action against the Senate for firing Brodkorb because he had an affair with his boss, former Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.
Brodkorb's attorneys said they are willing to expose sexual affairs between other Senate staffers and lawmakers to show that their client was wrongly fired in December, when Koch resigned her post.
Despite rumors that the two were having an affair, Senate officials have said Brodkorb was dismissed because there was no longer the will to keep the "at-will employee" employed. His potential lawsuit, which has put Senate leaders on the defensive, could cost state taxpayers money.
Brodkorb's attorney Phil Villaume said today that there is no record in Brodkorb's personnel file that he didn't do his job well. They also said that the secretary of the senate, Cal Ludeman told Brodkorb he lost his job because of the affair. Villaume said the firing was illegal because female staffers who had relationships with male legislators were not dismissed.
"Our client was treated differently than other similarly situated employees who had relationships with members of government," Villaume said.
Brodkorb intends to file a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then file a lawsuit, Villaume said. The attorney said he's willing to call witnesses including past and present staffers and lawmakers to show that others had similar affairs.
Villaume declined to name anyone. He insisted he and his client were not trying to blackmail the Senate to force a settlement.
"We don't threaten. We're trial lawyers and we litigate cases," he said. "We believe Mr. Brodkorb has a meritorious claim of discrimination based on disparate treatment. These are not threats. This is not blackmail. We're not threatening anybody. We're talking about litigation."
Villaume said Brodkorb was seeking at least $500,000. He targeted most of his criticism towards Ludeman, the top operations officer in the Senate and the person who fired Brodkorb.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Ludeman said the Senate refused to enter settlement talks with Brodkorb. The statement also said Brodkorb's claims were without merit and that Brodkorb was trying his case in the media.
On Thursday, Ludeman said Brodkorb's firing was legal, and that he never mentioned Brodkorb's relationship with Koch when he fired him.
"There was no conversation or no word uttered by me about that in that event."
Ludeman insisted that the Senate was on strong legal ground and said they would not settle with Brodkorb. Senator Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, offered a different opinion. Senjem declined to address the prospects of a lawsuit but suggested there's still room to negotiate.
"We don't know if they're going to so unless they do, that's just conjecture," he said. "Mediation still isn't out of the question but it would have to be resurrected."
Senjem said there was no talk of a financial settlement during the early discussions about entering mediation.
However, the prospect that the lawsuit might bring up embarrassing situations for legislators could be incentive for Republican leaders to settle. Brodkorb's legal claim left open the option of suing three other Republican senators: Geoff Michel of Edina, David Hann of Eden Prairie and Chris Gerlach of Apple Valley. They were among the group of Republican senators who held a press conference the day after Koch stepped down and revealed she was leaving because of an inappropriate relationship. Brodkorb also may sue Koch's former chief of staff Cullen Sheehan and current staffer Aaron Cocking for invasion of privacy.
The filing also said Koch, who to declined comment today, is willing to testify on Brodkorb's behalf. If Brodkorb is successful, the Senate would have to pay him. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he expects a lawsuit could take years to resolve.
"I think the Senate will prevail but we will certainly have attorney bills that have mounted up over time and they will be substantial and there will be an obligation of the Senate budget. The state Senate budget is state general fund money."
That means taxpayer money. Brodkorb's attorneys say the strategy behind his case is relatively new in Minnesota. Employment attorney Stephen Cooper said the complaint has merit if Brodkorb can effectively argue that female workers who had intimate relationships with legislators were treated differently than he was.
"If you have a set of rules for men and you have a set of rules for women and they're different, you have to be able to justify why it is that the rules actually are reasonable. That's tough to do."
Brodkorb's attorney said he was still trying to determine whether the suit would be filed in state or federal court.