State Commissioner Sues Gov. Branstad for Discrimination

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad delivers his Condition of the State address before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

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By Ryan Jones

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The Iowa Workers' Compensation commissioner filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday alleging Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds and members of the governor's staff discriminated against him for political reasons and because he's gay.

Christopher Godfrey's lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Des Moines claims Branstad and some of his staff violated his constitutional rights by cutting his salary and by trying to push him out of his job. Godfrey, 40, oversees disputes between injured workers and their employers in Iowa.

Godfrey claims that Branstad and others on his staff discriminated by "establishing, maintaining, and/or enforcing policies that treat homosexual appointive state officers differently than heterosexual appointive state officers, by slandering them and illegally reducing their salaries."

He claims further discriminated against him by "demanding plaintiff's resignation because of his sexual orientation and drastically reducing plaintiff's salary."

Godfrey has been commissioner since 2006, first appointed by Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack and reappointed by former Gov. Chet Culver, also a Democrat. His term expires in April 2015.

Branstad, a Republican, asked Godfrey to resign in December 2010. Godfrey refused.

Godfrey says the Legislature established six-year terms for the commissioner to insulate the position from partisan politics. Since governors serve four-year terms, the commissioner appointed by the previous governor would have two years remaining to serve.

Godfrey's attorney Roxanne Conlin said Branstad wants to bring in a commissioner who would align more with him politically. She said Godfrey is trying to protect the integrity of the system by refusing to step aside.

Godfrey said Branstad, Reynolds, Branstad's Chief of Staff Jeffrey Boeyink, and the governor's lawyer Brenna Findley again tried to get him to resign in 2011. When he refused, his salary was cut from just over $112,000 to around $73,000.

The attorney representing Branstad and the others on his staff said the officials were doing their jobs.

George A. LaMarca said the law requires the governor to evaluate Godfrey's performance and set his salary. LaMarca says a study shows Iowa's workers' compensation costs have increased between 2006 and 2012 while other states reduced or held costs steady. He said higher costs to employers hurt job growth and Iowa's ability to compete for jobs. Branstad and members of his staff have blamed Godfrey for the increasing costs to businesses.

Godfrey also claims Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert has subjected him to ostracism, isolation and retaliation.

He said she withheld about $161,000 from his division's budget for 2012 and that Branstad vetoed the position of chief deputy commissioner from the department's budget to further push him to quit.

The lawsuit also alleges Branstad, Reynolds, Boeyink, and Branstad's spokesman Tim Albrecht have made false statements to news organizations about Godfrey's performance.

He says he has been excluded from meetings, retreats, and conferences which were critical to the performance of his duties. The lawsuit claims the state officials denied Godfrey of his rights of due process and equal protection under the law guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The rights were denied for "strictly partisan purposes" and "because of his sexual orientation," the lawsuit said.

He seeks money for mental and emotional harm and distress and loss of wages and benefits

Godfrey filed a similar lawsuit alleging violations of his state civil rights last year. It is on hold in Polk County District Court until the Iowa Supreme Court rules on whether state officials have immunity against defamation.

"This federal lawsuit is nothing more than an extreme makeover of the ongoing state lawsuit," LaMarca said. "A number of other claims based on these same facts have already been dismissed in the state court action."

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