The Senate Rules and Administration Committee met briefly Monday afternoon to approve the $30,000 payment that will bring an end to former staffer Michael Brodkorb‘s gender discrimination lawsuit. With its vote, the committee moves the issue to a final stage, with only the approval of Senate leadership and Brodkorb remaining.
Brodkorb filed suit against the Senate last summer, originally alleging that the Senate and former Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman had committed a broad range of offenses against him. Through judge’s orders and Brodkorb’s own concessions, the claims were eventually narrowed to the discrimination aspect. In that claim, Brodkorb argued he was wrongfully terminated following news of an affair with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch; according to Brodkorb’s suit, female staffers who had engaged in affairs with male legislators had not been fired.
The document before the committee on Monday outlined the terms of an agreement the two sides reached in court on Thursday. Under that filing, Brodkorb will agree that the facts of the case “will not support a sex discrimination claim or any of his other claims,” and agrees to the dismissal of the case with prejudice. In exchange, he will receive $30,000 worth of severance pay, an approximation of what Brodkorb would have received had he kept his job with the Senate through the end of the 2012 session. As was pointed out in the document and during the hearing, Brodkorb had been offered a similar severance package before his lawsuit, and had rejected it.
The Senate has also agreed to withdraw its charges that Brodkorb and his lawyers had deliberately leaked court briefs that should have been sealed. Owing to the withdrawal of those claims, the Senate is no longer pushing for legal sanctions or the recovery of its own attorneys’ fees.
Most of Monday’s hearing centered on legislators seeking assurances that the case was coming to a conclusion. Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, himself an attorney, asked Senate counsel Tom Bottern if the agreement would effectively prevent Brodkorb from bringing further legal action, including future complaints or claims for his legal fees. Cohen said the Senate’s outlay in the case — the severance pay comes on top of $320,000 worth of legal defense fees already spent by the upper chamber — was “money that’s been difficult to come by,” given the Senate’s budget constraints.
“I don’t want any ability whatsoever for the plaintiff to come back against the Senate,” Cohen said.
Bottern said the final written terms were still being worked out by Brodkorb’s attorneys and the Senate’s outside team from the Larkin Hoffman law firm, but assured Cohen that preventing future claims was a central part of the deal the two sides struck last week.
The final document will still need to be signed by Brodkorb, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Senate Minority Leader David Hann, who interjected at one point during Monday’s hearing to make a semantic point: The accord before the committee was not a “settlement” with Brodkorb, but merely a severance pay package, Hann said.
“I think it’s important,” Hann said, “that we recognize that we had made an offer of severance pay 18 months ago. It was not accepted.”
Aside from the severance package, the committee will still need to convene at a later date to sign off on final legal fees. In early September, the panel signed off on the attorneys’ fees accrued through August, meaning legal costs owing to the final negotiations throughout September would still need approval. As part of its fiscal year 2014 budget, the Senate set aside $500,000 for fees relating to the case. That money was intended to pay for ongoing costs, should the case have reached a scheduled trial date of July 2014.
As the meeting came to a close, Bakk asked Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, if he had anything he wanted to add. Senjem had been at the forefront of the controversy since its inception, having assumed the leadership role after Koch was forced to step down. Senjem said he appreciated the legal counsel of Larkin Hoffman, and said he was happy to see the case come to an end.
“I just hope it is now over,” Senjem said.
The package was approved overwhelmingly on a voice vote. Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, was the only dissenting voice.