Iowa Supreme Court overturns Branstad discrimination lawsuit

By: - June 30, 2021 1:03 pm

Former Gov. Terry Branstad speaks to reporters at a fundraiser in November 2016 in Altoona, Iowa. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a former state employee has no claims against former Gov. Terry Branstad in a decade-long discrimination case.

“I am so incredibly appreciative of the ruling issued by the Iowa Supreme Court in this case today,” Branstad said in a statement Wednesday. “This has been a very long road for me, my family, and members of my staff.”

Former Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey took legal action against Branstad and his administration in 2012. Godfrey alleged that he had been pressured to resign because he was gay and that the state wrongfully slashed his salary when he refused. 

After a six-week trial in 2019, a jury found that Branstad had discriminated against Godfrey due to his sexual orientation. They awarded Godfrey $1.5 million in damages.

The state appealed the ruling, leading to Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision. The court found that the plaintiffs in that trial were not sufficiently able to prove that Branstad knew Godfrey was gay when he asked for his resignation. Instead, the Justice Christopher McDonald wrote in a majority opinion, Godfrey’s lawyers claimed the entirety of the Republican Party had an anti-gay bias that influenced the employment dispute.

“Over the defendants’ objection, the district court allowed Godfrey to call witnesses to provide lay opinion evidence that the Republican Party and its members were motivated by anti-gay animus based on events that occurred years prior to this case, had no connection to any of the defendants in this case, and had no connection to Godfrey’s employment,” McDonald wrote.

The court also found Branstad was within his rights to lower Godfrey’s salary significantly when Godfrey refused to resign. 

Branstad, in his statement Wednesday, denied any bias. “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.”

Justices Thomas Waterman, Edward Mansfield and Dana Oxley joined McDonald in the majority opinion. Justice Brent Appel filed an opinion that partially dissented with the majority opinion. Justice Matthew McDermott and Chief Justice Susan Christensen filed another partially dissenting opinion.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Reporter Katie Akin began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.