Iowa governor deposed in discrimination case of gay former state administrator

Gov. Terry Branstad (R-Iowa)

Gov. Terry Branstad (R-Iowa) AP

DES MOINES, Iowa — This was probably not the way Gov. Terry Branstad wanted to spend his Thanksgiving week: Being questioned under oath for hours about his treatment of a gay former state administrator.

Gov. Terry Branstad (R-Iowa)AP

Gov. Terry Branstad (R-Iowa)

But after delaying the session until after his Nov. 4 re-election, Branstad faced a daylong deposition Wednesday in a civil lawsuit brought by ex-Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey.

Branstad was questioned by Godfrey’s attorney Roxanne Conlin at a Des Moines law office. The transcript will eventually become public during or after the case, the cost of which may soon rise to $648,000 in legal bills.

Godfrey alleges that Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and aides mistreated him after the governor returned to office in 2011. Godfrey contends he was singled out for harsher treatment because he’s gay.

Branstad asked Godfrey and many others to submit resignations so that he could name his own management team. Godfrey declined. He noted he had been confirmed by the Iowa Senate for a six-year term that lasted until April 2015, and that his job was supposed to be insulated from political influence so that injured workers could receive fair hearings about whether they qualify for benefits.

After Godfrey declined additional requests to resign, Branstad cut his pay by $40,000 to the lowest amount allowed for the job. Administration officials painted Godfrey as a poor commissioner whose decisions were hurting employers — which Godfrey denied. Godfrey stayed despite what he called a hostile environment, leaving in August for a federal appointment as chairman of the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board.

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His lawsuit alleges discrimination, defamation and extortion. Branstad denies the allegations, contending he wasn’t aware of Godfrey’s sexual orientation. His lawyers say incoming governors have long asked for appointees’ resignations, and Branstad had the authority to set salaries.

The state has paid $527,000 to LaMarca & Landry, a Des Moines firm defending the administration. The firm has recently submitted additional invoices totaling $121,000 that are under review, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office said Wednesday.

Conlin wanted to depose Branstad in September. But Branstad’s lawyers said his schedule made him unavailable until after the election, when he easily won an unprecedented sixth term.

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