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  • Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Iowa Government

    Godfrey’s Claim

    Chris Godfrey, Iowa’s Worker’s Compensation Commissioner, recently filed a $1 million lawsuit against the state’s governor, Terry Branstad, and is accusing him of defamation, harassment, sexual discrimination and extortion. According to Godfrey, the governor twice asked him to step down from his position because he is gay, and when Godfrey refused for the second time in July 2011, his salary was decreased from $109,000 to $73,000. Godfrey reasons that he declined Branstad’s requests because he had already accomplished a great deal while serving his term as Commissioner.

    Further, Godfrey’s six-year tenure is not set to expire until April 30, 2015, and this precise time limit was put in force for the purpose of shielding the commissioner position from undue political pressure. Godfrey’s lawyer claims that Branstad exceeded the scope of his authority when he asked for Godfrey’s resignation before his term had expired, and she likens her client’s status to that of judge or a chief justice of the Supreme Court. As indicated by this argument, it would appear that the governor’s actions were unlawful despite whether or not he engaged in sexual orientation discrimination.

    Sexual Orientation Discrimination

    While currently only about one half of all Americans reside in jurisdictions where protection against discrimination on account of sexual preference is available, Iowa is a state that maintains an anti-discrimination law. The Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965 prohibits discrimination in the employment arena and prohibits discrimination, or disparate treatment, if it is on based on qualities or characteristics such as sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity, among many others. An employee, in California, who believes that he or she has been discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation has the option of consulting a sexual harassment lawyer in Irvine.

    An individual’s gender identity is defined by his or her own perception of being male or female, while actual gender is determined by the physical attributes with which a person is born. For instance, a transgender person’s gender identity likely does not correspond to his or her actual, or assigned, gender.  Discrimination includes being refused a promotion, being written-up or penalized for no apparent reason, and being wrongfully terminated simply because the employer disapproves of the employee’s sexual orientation.

    According to Commissioner Godfrey, Governor Branstad is guilty of the latter of such discriminatory misconduct, at the very least. However, if Godfrey’s claims are unsuccessful, he may wish to also bring suit under theories like intentional or negligent infliction of emotional distress, harassment, or assault. Questions regarding these alternative theories can be answered by a qualified sexual harassment lawyer in Irvine.

    Governor Branstad Alleges Poor Performance

    Contrary to Godfrey, who claims that he enjoyed much success during his reign as Commissioner, Governor Branstad asserts that Godfrey demonstrated poor performance and was asked to resign for that reason alone. The governor’s office released a statement stating that Branstad did not show prejudice toward Godfrey in any way, and in fact, was not even aware that he was gay. George LaMarca, the governor’s attorney, states that Branstad’s decision to reduce Godfrey’s salary was well within his authority, and that he exercised this right simply because he did not approve of “the direction the commissioner was moving th[e] department.”

    In the governor’s defense, it is not uncommon for an employee who is also a poor performer to concoct a phony case, especially if he knows that he likely will be fired in the near future. These individuals believe that by claiming to have been discriminated against, they can open the door to later launching a retaliation claim, even if their termination was based entirely on their inferior work performance. Bogus cases, such as these, place the employer, or authoritative figure, accused of misconduct in a quandary.

    The employer is presented with the option of either continuing to employ a troublesome or inadequate employee or facing the threat of a retaliation lawsuit, fraught with outrageous fees and judgments, shocking accusations, and negative publicity. Whether or not this is the case in regards to the claims against Governor Branstad has yet to be determined; however, any person who believes that he or she has been subjected to a bogus case should discuss the issue with a competent sexual harassment lawyer in Irvine.