Hot Docs: Male state senate staffer sues for sex discrimination, claims female staffers in affairs not fired

August 2, 2012

Minnesota affairA few weeks ago, I wrote about a lawsuit by a woman claiming that she was wrongfully terminated from her employment because she refused to undergo an abortion.

I concluded that piece by saying that the best advice is “to avoid all romantic entanglements at work.”

That’s especially good advice if you work with a political party at your state’s legislature.

If you’re familiar with the nature of my posts, you’d guess that I’m writing this because someone didn’t follow this advice, and that there’s now a lawsuit over it.

Good guess.

First, the dirt:

Michael Brodkorb was the Communications Director for the Minnesota Senate Minority Caucus until 2010, when Republicans took control of the Senate and he transitioned to the role of Communications Director for the Minnesota Senate Majority Caucus.

Brodkorb had an affair with Republican Senate Majority leader Amy Koch, which party leadership became aware of in September of 2011.

In December of 2011, Koch was asked to “resign immediately” from her position as majority leader (which she did), and Brodkorb was fired.

In March of 2012, Brodkorb sent a Notice of Claim letter to the Minnesota senate informing the organization of his intention to sue (as required by state law).

Secretary of the Minnesota Senate Cal Ludeman issued a press release on the organization’s behalf stating that Brodkorb was attempting to “extort a payment from the Senate.”

Ludeman also told a local newspaper that Brodkorb was attempting to “blackmail” the Senate.

Brodkorb amended his Notice of Claim letter to add defamation claims (since falsely claiming blackmail or extortion is defamation per se), and finally filed suit last week.

Believe it or not, here’s where things get really interesting.

Aside from the two defamation claims discussed above, there are four relating to the Senate’s public release of data relating to Brodkorb’s application for unemployment benefits – two are statutory, and two are common law invasion of privacy tort claims.

Hot Doc: Brodkorb v. Minn. Senate

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight – National Litigation

The last four claims are what you’ve been waiting for: gender discrimination claims under state and Federal law.

In the complaint, Brodkorb is claiming that “[s]imilarly situated female legislative employees, from both political parties, were not terminated from their employment positions despite intimate relationships with male legislators.”

This allegation, if true, would make the case a slam dunk for Brodkorb.

The problem is obviously going to be proving this claim to be true.

Even if Brodkorb has personal knowledge of these affairs (which he almost certainly does), it’s going to be tricky finding individuals to corroborate these allegations.

Tricky – but not impossible.

It’s widely perceived that secret sexual relationships are commonplace in any legislative body, and there’s no reason to believe that the Minnesota Senate is any exception.

In addition to testimony from individuals, there’s bound to be paper trails substantiating the existence of at least some of these affairs.

Whether Brodkorb’s releasing this information will make him liable to invasion of privacy claims himself remains to be seen, but they, like Brodkorb’s own claim, may be vulnerable to the “legitimate public concern” defense established in the 1998 Minnesota Supreme Court case Lake v. Wal-Mart Stores.

In any case, we now know where the “extortion” and “blackmail” charges against Brodkorb were about.

After all, would Senate Secretary Ludeman feel as though there were any extortion of blackmail if there weren’t any secret sexual affairs in the Senate to expose?

It’ll be very interesting to watch the lawsuit play out to see whether Brodkorb procures the evidence of these alleged affairs (which he’ll have to do to succeed in his case).

If these alleged affairs actually exist, though, the lawsuit will likely be settled before any of them are revealed to the public.

Of course, this whole thing could have been avoided if, as I’ve already advised, people would just avoid romantic entanglements in the workplace.