The leading Democrat in the Minnesota Senate said Wednesday that Republicans have brought dishonor to the institution with the way they fired a former employee.
Michael Brodkorb served as spokesman for the Senate Republican Caucus until he was fired in December. In court papers released Thursday, he said he's willing to reveal other sexual affairs between lawmakers and staffers to prove that he was the victim of discrimination.
"It's not a good time for the Minnesota state Senate," said DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk.
In a usually routine weekly media briefing Friday, Republican Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem and Deputy Senate Majority Leader Julianne Ortman were peppered with questions about a potential lawsuit by Brodkorb. Both senators did their best to deflect questions about the lawsuit, potential affairs involving current and past senators, and whether Brodkorb was wrongfully dismissed.
"On the advice of counsel, we're not going to talk about that. You know what it is. It is what it is," Senjem said.
"I don't think there's any more that we can say on that ... except that we're in the position of being an employer just like every other employer in the state of Minnesota that has a dispute with a former employee," Ortman said.
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"It's not a distraction as far as I'm aware. It's in lawyer land as far as I'm concerned and that's where it will stay," Senjem said.
"You can ask all you want but we are not going to comment about potential litigation with a former employee," Ortman said.
ALLEGATIONS ROCK CAPITOL
Brodkorb was fired one day after Sen. Amy Koch resigned her position as Senate Majority Leader. Brodkorb alleges Senate Republicans fired him because he had an affair with Koch and that Koch will back up his claim.
Brodkorb's attorneys say his dismissal was gender discrimination and that they'll present cases where female staffers kept their jobs even though they had affairs with male lawmakers. The allegations rocked the Capitol, where rumors of sexual affairs between lawmakers, staffers and lobbyists have been heard for years.
Now lawmakers are being asked outright whether they had or know of any such affairs. DFL Senate Minority Leader Bakk said the whole thing is hurting the Senate.
"All of the Brodkorb allegations and the things that became public bring a great deal of dishonor to our institution, and I'm very concerned about that," Bakk said. "I don't want to do anything that piles on that."
TAXPAYERS COULD FOOT LEGAL BILLS
And there's a bigger issue besides the shame of lawmakers being exposed for affairs. There could also be a cost to taxpayers. Senjem said the Senate doesn't have a contingency fund or insurance to pay for outside counsel.
The Senate has already hired an outside attorney to handle the case. If a lawsuit is filed, the legal expenses could start racking up. Bakk said even if the Senate wins, it could be expensive.
"It's going to come from the taxpayer. It's going to come from an appropriation from the state's general fund to the Minnesota state Senate," Bakk said.
Brodkorb is seeking at least $500,000 in damages.