Minnesota Senate to pay former top DFL aide $110K to settle claims over her dismissal

Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, at a House hearing on medical marijuana.
Matt Sepic | MPR News 2016

Updated 4:15 p.m.

The Minnesota Senate agreed Tuesday to pay the former DFL caucus chief of staff $110,000 to resolve a discrimination claim over her dismissal in February.

The settlement approved by the Rules Committee involves Carly Melin, who had previously served in the Minnesota House and had a role in the attorney general’s office. No public filing had been made but Melin was accusing her Senate employer of violations of the Minnesota Human Rights Act. 

The settlement was approved on a 6-3 party-line vote with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed; no further Senate action is needed to implement it.

According to a lawyer for the Senate who described the allegations, Melin clashed with her former boss, then-Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, over her husband’s views and was sidelined as a result. Melin is married to Joe Radinovich, another former Minnesota House member who is a top adviser to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.

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The agreement comes without an admission of wrongdoing by the Senate and releases the Legislature from future claims Melin might otherwise bring over her departure.

The settlement amount is the equivalent of nearly six months of salary and benefits. The money must be paid to her by the middle of April, giving her the possibility to change her mind and rescind the deal.

Melin wasn’t present at the hearing. In a written statement, Melin said as a lifelong DFLer it was difficult to pursue the employment action against a Senate led by her party.

“But I was told I more than once I could no longer continue my role in the Senate due to my husband’s political actions and beliefs,” Melin said. “I’m happy to have achieved a resolution so my family can close this chapter and the harm it’s caused me.”

Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said the agreement wasn’t made lightly.

“The Minnesota Senate denies any wrongdoing and does not agree Ms. Melin is the victim of discrimination,” Murphy said as she presided over the Rules Committee hearing. 

“I’ve struggled over whether this was the right thing to do and I’ve asked a lot of questions. I believe that the Senate has done nothing wrong and I does not necessarily sit well to make a payment like this,” Murphy added.

She said lack of a settlement could result in more costly litigation, attorney fees and distractions even if the Senate would prevail.

Murphy said negotiations were occurring between Melin’s attorney and a lawyer hired by the Senate. The Senate has already paid that attorney $93,000, with more invoices expected.

Republicans on the panel raised questions about whether the Senate should accept the settlement rather than taking the chance to defend itself in court.

“It feels like we have a decent fighting chance on this but here we are settling for a rather large amount,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks.

Melin served in the Minnesota House representing an Iron Range district from 2011 to early 2017, opting against a run for a new term. She met Radinovich while in office and the two married after Melin’s divorce from a prior husband.

She was a staff member for Attorney General Keith Ellison from 2019 to 2021. She became Senate chief of staff from late 2021 to the beginning of this year. No reason was previously given for her abrupt departure.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said there is precedent for an employment case that resulted in a small settlement but high legal costs. That’s why she wanted to act now, she said.

In 2013, the Minnesota Senate paid $30,000 to a former Senate staff member, Michael Brodkorb, to settle his lawsuit over wrongful termination. The case wound up costing the Senate $300,000 in legal fees.

Correction (March 26, 2024): An earlier of this story described a previous settlement incorrectly. The above story has been updated.