SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- Former Minnesota Senate communications director Michael Brodkorb will press ahead with his wrongful termination claim, even if it means rounding up testimony from other State Capitol figures who were involve in affairs.
That's the word from his attorneys, who are looking to build a case of gender discrimination against the Minnesota Senate. Philip Villaume, who leads Brodkorb's legal team, laid out the basis of his case Wednesday in a well-attended press conference in St. Paul.
"Mr. (Cal) Ludeman told him in December when they met at the Moose Country restaurant in Mendota Heights that he was terminated because he had a relationship with Senator Koch."
Sen. Koch, of Buffalo, abruptly stepped down from her leadership post December 16. The next day a group of senators held a news conference revealing to the media they had confronted Koch about an inappropriate extramarital relationship with an unnamed senate staffer.
Hours after the four senators wrapped up their news conference explaining their decision to confront Koch, Senate Secretary Cal Ludeman met Brodkorb at a restaurant and fired him.
Brodkorb, a former deputy chair of the Minnesota Republican Party who also served as Koch's executive assistant, has remained mute on the subject of Koch's outing and his own termination. He has directed all media inquiries to his lawyers.
According to a Notice of Claims Villaume filed with the Senate and the Attorney General's office on Tuesday, the same senators who questioned Koch about the affair over a two-day period also insisted that Brodkorb be shown the door.
"We have reason to believe there are other individuals who were in engaged in affairs who were treated differently than Mr. Brodkorb," Villaume explained. "Our client was treated differently than other similarly situated employees who had relationships with members of government."
He said Brodkorb will file a gender discrimination claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and if the EEOC signs off on that Brodkorb will be allowed to file a lawsuit against the Senate.
The Notice of Claim, seeking $500,000 from the Senate, is the first required step in either mediation or a formal case with the EEOC. If the matter goes to trial Sen. Koch will be among those called to testify.
"Our client indicated to us that if we can't get the matter settled through mediation, which is what his preference was, we should proceed with litigation."
Villaume says the legal team will gather depositions from others who've had affairs at the Capitol, including "male staffers, female staffers, male legislators, female senators, past and present, and lobbyists."
He said the names of those individuals will not become part of the public court record, but will be sealed by a protective order from a judge. But the very prospect of those interviews prompted Ludeman to issue a stern statement Wednesday night, accusing Brodkorb of trying to squeeze a settlement from the Senate.
The news release, which was emailed and hand-delivered to the Capitol press corps, said the Senate had refused Brodkorb's request for a mediated settlement.
"Despite repeated requests to provide any factual basis for any dispute over his termination, Michael Brodkorb has failed and refused to do so," Ludeman wrote.
"Despite Mr. Brodkorb's efforts to disrupt the work of the Senate in the current legislative session, to distract members of the Senate, to extort a payment from the Senate, and to try his so-called claims in the media, the Senate will not allow that to succeed."
Villaume asserted Thursday that all of Ludeman's assertions were untrue, and possibly actionable. He said Brodkorb, contrary to some assumptions among Senate staff, did not leak a copy of the confidential Notice of Claims.
"False statement number three; 'Mr. Brodkorb is attempting to extort a payment or blackmail from the Minnesota senate.' That is a false and defamatory statement!"
Ludeman has maintained that Brodkorb, as an unclassified "at will" employee, can be let go at anytime. And, unlike classified state employees in the civil service system, there's no built-in appeals process through the Dept. of Employee Relations.
"When leadership changes occur in the Senate, changes in supporting staff are routine," Ludeman wrote.
But Villaume and his partners on the case, Jeffrey Schiek and Gregory Walsh, told reporters that Ludeman is missing the point of the claim, which is that Brodkorb wouldn't have been fired if he had been a female employee who had a dalliance with a male senator.
There was another section of the Notice of Claims that apparently disturbed Ludeman and current Senate leaders. It stated that, even if there is an out-of-court settlement of the wrongful termination claim, Brodkorb would reserve the right to sue others five others in the Senate individually.
That group includes the three of the four Republican senators who held the December 17th press conference addressing Koch's affair. It specifically named Sen. Geoff Michel of Edina, Sen. David Hann of Eden Prairie and Sen. Chris Gerlach of Apple Valley.
Brodkorb apparently did not reserve the right to sue Majority Leader David Senjem of Rochester, who was the fourth senator at that December press event.
The other two possible lawsuit targets listed in the document were former Senate chief of staff Cullen Sheehan and committee administrator Aaron Cocking. According to the claim, Sheehan informed Sen. Michel of the Koch-Brodkorb affair in September, three months before the pivotal confrontation.
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