Iowa appeals ex-Gov. Branstad $1.5M discrimination verdict

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The state of Iowa has appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court a lawsuit in which a jury concluded former Gov. Terry Branstad discriminated against a former state official because the official is gay, Gov. Kim Reynolds said Friday.

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A jury awarded former Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey $1.5 million in July, finding he was the victim of discrimination and retaliation when Branstad tried to force him to quit in 2011 and then cut his pay.

Jurors found against Branstad, one of his staff members and the state. Branstad resigned as governor in 2017 to become the U.S. ambassador to China.

Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said Friday in a statement that Reynolds made the decision after consulting with attorneys.

“We believe the state’s arguments are strong and will succeed on appeal,” he said. “Additional legal costs will be minimal and winning the appeal will save taxpayers millions of dollars.”

Attorneys for Branstad and the state have argued that the verdicts weren’t supported by substantial evidence and conflict with the law. Branstad testified that at the time he asked Godfrey to resign, he didn’t know that Godfrey was gay. His attorneys claim there was insufficient evidence to show that Branstad knew.

Those arguments and others were rejected last week by Judge Brad McCall, the judge who presided over the trial. He wrote that the jury clearly rejected Branstad’s contention that he didn’t know Godfrey was gay.

McCall said the jury was presented with substantial evidence from which to conclude that Branstad’s action against Godfrey was due to Godfrey’s sexual orientation.

The state is appealing those rulings.

Godfrey’s attorney Roxanne Conlin said appealing is a “deeply dumb” decision because the best outcome for the state is that the supreme court orders a new trial.

“Even if they win everything in the Supreme Court the result is not that it all goes away. The result is that it goes back to the district court for retrial,” Conlin said. “The court cannot undo the Iowa civil rights law. That law exists, and that law protects Chris Godfrey and every other gay person from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. They cannot undo that.”

The total cost for the case stands at about $8 million and if Godfrey prevails taxpayers must pay it. Retrying the case could double that cost, Conlin said.

“I think people should be marching in the streets,” she said.

Two Democratic members of the Iowa Executive Council, the five-member panel responsible for authorizing state litigation expenses, said they will not vote to approve legal bills for an appeal.

State Treasurer Michael Fitzgerald and State Auditor Rob Sand have said they will not support paying further appeal costs.

“I am still waiting for anyone to explain to me why they believe this is in the best interest of taxpayers,” Sand said Friday.

Even if Fitzgerald and Sand vote to stop paying for the case, the three Republicans on the council have a majority vote and could continue to pay. They are Reynolds, Secretary of State Paul Pate and Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig.

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