Jury Hears Arguments In Discrimination Case Against Former Governor

Jun 5, 2019

A 10 person jury had its first opportunity Wednesday to hear arguments in a case where former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad is accused of pressuring a department-head to resign because he is gay. Former Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, Chris Godfrey, is suing the state, Branstad and two former aides because he says when he refused to step down his salary was cut in retaliation.

According to Godfrey’s attorney, Roxanne Conlin, he was the only department executive to be paid a minimum salary at the time. He was also the only one who is gay.

Chris Godfrey confers with an attorney in Polk County courtroom. After leaving his position as Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner, Godfrey took a similar position at the federal level.
Credit pool photo via Stephen Gruber-Miller / Des Moines Register

“He had the right not to resign and he exercised that right, and then they slashed his salary by 35 percent,” Conlin said in her opening statement. “They did that to force him to resign.”

Branstad’s attorney, Frank Harty, said the former governor and current ambassador to China was unaware of Godfrey’s sexuality but added that Branstad has welcomed gay staff members in the past, including his current chief of staff.

“There was no mention of the plaintiff’s sexual orientation in any meeting with Terry Branstad,” Harty said in his opening statement. “And (Godfrey) didn’t know, apparently, of the makeup of Terry Branstad’s teams over the years.”

Harty said the reason Branstad asked Godfrey to resign is that business leaders had complained about changes in the way workers’ compensation cases were handled. In one example, Godfrey had supported a policy to require companies to pay for injury exams by doctors chosen by their workers. Branstad had once vetoed a bill proposing a change along those lines, Harty said.

The trial will continue for up to four weeks with frequent testimony from staffers and lobbyists. Branstad is scheduled to testify in person at the Polk County courthouse on June 14.