April 20th, 2012

While losing a job is almost always a very significant event for the person who has been terminated, it generally does not receive widespread media attention. An ongoing wrongful termination lawsuit related to the firing of a Minnesota Senate staffer, however, is making the news after allegations that he was terminated in response to a romantic relationship that was allegedly occurring between himself and a Senator for whom he worked.

This high profile incident provides an opportunity for us to examine the context for the case in a way that is usually not possible when the situation involves people who are not the focus of the public spotlight.

The male staffer claims that he was the victim of gender discrimination. He says that female staffers who had engaged in romantic relationships with male Senators did not suffer the same negative employment consequences.

The former staffer has said that he plans to depose all Senators and staff who have been suspected of being involved in similar relationships.

His former employers’ response to these claims is also at issue. While it is not unheard of for an employer to make negative statements in an attempt to discredit a person who has filed an employment lawsuit, in this case the former staffer claims that he has been defamed. Specifically, he claims that he was referred to as a “blackmailer” who is simply attempting to “extort money” from the Senate. These statements — essentially accusations that the former staffer has behaved in a criminal fashion — have also led to an additional civil lawsuit regarding the reported defamation.

As this case moves forward it will likely provide a useful education to the public regarding wrongful termination and gender discrimination in the workplace. Depending upon the result of the various suits, it may also point out that while employers may be free to criticize former employees’ performance, accusing them of serious crimes like blackmail and extortion may fall outside the realm of unfortunate but legally permissible “name calling” and into the realm of the sort of retaliation that employers cannot engage in without risking serious legal and financial consequences.

Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, “Brodkorb warns Senate he plans to sue for $500,000,” RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER, April 6, 2012.

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