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Former Iowa Official Wins Antigay Bias Suit Against GOP Governor

Chris Godfrey

A jury has awarded a gay former Iowa state employee $1.5 million in his discrimination lawsuit.

Chris Godfrey, who was the state’s workers’ compensation commissioner when Terry Branstad returned to the governor’s office in 2011, said Branstad discriminated against him by demanding his resignation and then cutting his pay when he refused to leave, The Des Moines Register reports.

A jury in Polk County found in Godfrey’s favor Monday, saying the state and Branstad discriminated based on Godfrey’s sexual orientation, in violation of Iowa law. In addition to the $1.5 million awarded to him for emotional distress, the state will have to pay his attorneys’ fees, with the amount to be determined by a judge.

When Branstad, a Republican, became governor again in 2011 (he had previously held the office in the 1980s and ’90s), he asked for the resignation of all state department heads and division directors, saying he wanted to appoint his own team, and that seeking the resignations was standard practice for newly inaugurated governors.

Godfrey, who had served under Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, was one of just three who refused to resign. After he declined a second request from Branstad, the governor cut his salary from $112,070 to $73,250, “the lowest allowed by law for the job,” the Register notes. Godfrey filed his lawsuit in 2012.

Branstad testified during the trial that he had never discriminated against anyone because of their sexual orientation and that he did not know Godfrey was gay until he learned the commissioner had threatened a lawsuit. He contended that there were complaints about whether Godfrey acted fairly in settling workers’ comp disputes. 

When running for governor in 2010, Branstad had voiced opposition to the Iowa Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in favor of marriage equality and said the state should pass a constitutional amendment to nullify it. But he testified that his views had changed. The Republican, who was reelected governor in 2014 and resigned to become U.S. ambassador to China in 2017, said he now supports LGBTQ rights and has hosted Pride events in China.

Kim Reynolds, who was lieutenant governor under Branstad and is now governor, was initially named as a defendant in the lawsuit but was dropped from it before the trial began. An aide to Reynolds expressed disappointment with the verdict but declined to say whether the state would appeal, the Register reports.

Godfrey, who is now chief judge of the body in Washington, D.C., that rules on federal workers’ comp disputes, was elated by the verdict. “It feels a little bit unreal,” he told the Register Monday. “I’m just so happy that I and my family have finally had justice in this case.”

“Obviously I’d like an apology,” he added. “I don’t know if that will be forthcoming or not. But I had a jury of fellow Iowans sit and listen to the evidence, and they made the determination that they discriminated and retaliated against me and violated my constitutional rights.”

Tags: Politics, Iowa, Law

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