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Iowa workers comp head sues governor for discrimination, partisanship

Posted On: Aug. 1, 2013 12:00 AM CST

Iowa's workers compensation commissioner is suing Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and other defendants alleging they reduced his salary because he is gay and because of political partisanship.

Attorneys representing the governor and the other defendants argued in federal court Tuesday that the lawsuit filed by Christopher J. Godfrey, the workers comp commissioner, should be dismissed because a state court is already weighing a similar lawsuit Mr. Godfrey filed in 2012.

Legal filings show that in 2009, former Iowa Gov. Chet Culver appointed Mr. Godfrey to serve a six-year term as workers comp commissioner, a position that required state Senate confirmation. But after his election in 2010, Gov. Branstad and some of his staff members began demanding Mr. Godfrey's resignation.

The governor's staff members are among defendants in the case. Former Gov. Culver is Democrat, and Gov. Branstad is a Republican.

Mr. Godfrey refused to resign his commissioner post, and the governor reduced his $112,068 annual salary to $73,250. The plaintiff claims the salary reduction was part of an endeavor to intimidate and harass him into resigning even though he has performed his role in an exemplary manner.

Mr. Godfrey's federal lawsuit also claims that the defendants made several false statements to news organizations about his job performance as a commissioner.

The defendants, “while acting under color of law, deprived plaintiff of equal protection of the laws by establishing, maintaining, and/or enforcing policies that treat homosexual appointive state officers differently than heterosexual appointive state officers, by slandering them and illegally reducing their salaries,” according to the lawsuit filed in April in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.


But the governor has discretion to evaluate the commissioner's pay and adjust it according to performance criteria, a lawyer representing the defendants said.

At the time that Gov. Branstad reduced Mr. Godfrey's salary, he knew nothing about the commissioner's sexual orientation, said George A. LaMarca, an attorney at LaMarca & Landry P.C. in Des Moines who is representing the governor.

“And in any event sexual orientation has never been a factor in any hiring, termination, salary decision, or any other employment decision that the governor has ever made,” Mr. LaMarca said.

The plaintiff also argues that the defendants have deprived him of his constitutionally protected property interests, meaning his salary and employment benefits, by demanding his resignation “for strictly partisan political purposes.”

His complaint states that he refuses to resign because Iowa's Legislature intended for his six-year appointment to be insulated from partisan politics.

But on Tuesday, the defendants argued in federal court, that a state court is capable of handling Mr. Godfrey's complaint and that filing lawsuits in both federal and state courts is a waste of resources.