The Iowa Supreme Court on Wednesday overturned a landmark $1.5 case of discrimination against a gay former Iowa state official. Justices ruled that there wasn't evidence to show that then-Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, knew the official's sexual orientation.
In the court's opinion, Justice Christopher McDonald called it "pure speculation" that Branstad had been made aware of then-Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey's sexuality.
The justice also wrote that Godfrey's claim that Branstad's political affiliation as a Republican was not enough to show he held "anti-gay" sentiments.
"It is an outcome-based decision," Godfrey told the Associated Press. "Politics were injected into the court and this is what we've got."
He said the ruling was "an absolutely bizarre decision" and one that harms the protections for LGBTQ+ people.
Godfrey's attorney, Roxanne Conlin, called the court's decision surprising and disappointing. "The jury said the governor did know, and the Supreme Court is not allowed to reverse a finding of fact," Conlin said, reported The Des Moines Register. "Circumstantial evidence is, by law, equal to direct evidence, and in every civil rights case, the perpetrator denies being motivated by discrimination -- we know that's going to happen; we expect that to happen. We don't expect the Supreme Court to rule it didn't happen when the jury said that it did."
In 2019, jurors found that Branstad and his legal counsel discriminated against Godfrey based on his sexual orientation, violating Iowa civil rights act. The jury also found that the governor and his counsel violated Godfrey's rights over his affiliation with the Democratic Party.
Jurors awarded Godfrey $1.5 million for emotional distress.
Besides not having to pay the $1.5 million, the court also ruled that the state didn't have to cover Godfrey's legal fees that are now over $3 million.
"I have always prided myself on treating people fairly, regardless of their sexual orientation or any other personal characteristic. The discrimination allegations in this case were completely unfounded, and I am so pleased with this result," Branstad said in a statement on Wednesday, reported The Des Moines Register.
The suit began after Branstad won the governor's race in 2010. He asked many appointees from his Democratic predecessor to resign. Godfrey did not. His position for a six-year term was supposed to be disconnected from politics, according to the AP.
Due to Godfrey's unwillingness at the time to resign, Branstad cut his pay. Godfrey claimed his sexual orientation was a factor in Branstad's treatment of him. Branstad had won the governor's race on an anti-LGBTQ+ campaign.
The governor testified in court that it was only later that he learned of Godfrey's sexual orientation, according to the AP.
Godfrey quit state government in 2014 to go work for the U.S. Department of Labor. He told the AP that he felt respected in his current role.
"It's just a shame that Iowa can't value people in the same way," Godfrey said. "Because nobody that goes into public service should have to be treated the way that I was treated."