Michael Brodkorb, the former communications director for the Minnesota Senate Majority Caucus who was fired last December after revelations of an affair with the Senate Majority Leader, has moved forward with his gender discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit. A summons and complaint was filed this week in the Second Judicial District in St. Paul, after Brodkorb obtained a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC.
The lawsuit names the State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Senate and, specifically, Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman as defendants. Ludeman was named, among other reasons, because of statements to the Star Tribune that Brodkorb was trying to "'blackmail' the Senate, disrupt its work, and 'extort' payment" rather than pressing a legitimate claim, which Brodkorb calls defamatory.
He also accuses Ludeman of leaking confidential information about his claim for unemployment benefits to the press. The complaint states that the unemployment information was "absolutely privileged" under Minnesota's data privacy law and that both Ludeman and the Minnesota Senate are liable for violating that privilege.
Brodkorb claims that he was wrongfully terminated based upon his gender. Although he was fired because of the affair, he argues, a number of female legislative employees have been discovered in similar relationships with legislators but have not been fired. Because he was treated differently than similarly-situated women, his firing amounts to gender discrimination.
He is seeking between $50,000 and around $500,000 for the wrongful termination, gender discrimination, emotional distress, defamation, invasion of privacy and other damages. According to the Associated Press, Brodkorb was making $90,000 a year in his position as communications director for the Minnesota Senate Majority Caucus. He was also deputy chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party until last fall.
Beyond its implications in employment law, the case has aroused controversy because the Senate has hired a private firm to defend it against the discrimination and wrongful termination claims. Brodkorb first brought forward his claim shortly after his firing and, by mid-May the Senate had already spent $85,000 in legal fees preparing for its defense.
Although Minnesota law presumes that the defense of public employees and state agencies will be paid for at taxpayer expense, a number of commentators have criticized the decision to spend state funds on the case at all, and particularly to spend them on outside counsel.
"I am not interested in a mediated settlement," said Senate Majority Leader David Senjem in a written statement, "and I believe the Senate will prevail in court." He added that he expects the outside counsel to take steps to protect taxpayer interests.
- CBS MoneyWatch, "Ex-Minn. Senate aide sues over firing after affair," with the Associated Press, July 24, 2012
- Summons and Complaint, "Michael Brodkorb, Plaintiff, v. State of Minnesota, the Minnesota Senate, and Cal Ludeman, individually, Defendants," District Court of Minnesota, Second Judicial District, No. 62-CV-12-05979, July 23, 2012