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Sioux City Native Responds to IA Supreme Court Ruling Overturning Discrimination Verdict


A decision by the Iowa Supreme Court overturned a landmark ruling for a former state official with Siouxland ties who sued the former Governor of Iowa.

Siouxland Public Media’s Sheila Brummer has the story.

INTERVIEW: Former Iowa State Official Chris Godfrey talks about Iowa Supreme Court Ruling overturning verdict in his discrimination case against former IA Governor Terry Branstad

The Iowa Supreme Court overturned a $1.5 million dollar jury verdict saying there was no evidence former Gov. Terry Branstad discriminated or retaliated against a state official who is gay.

“To some extent it is not unexpected, but the decision itself is bizarre.”

That’s Chris Godfrey, a Sioux City native, and former Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, who filed a lawsuit after Branstad demanded he resign one year into a 6-year term and then cut his salary when he refused.

Godfrey calls the ruling an erosion of rights for the LGBTQ community.

“The outcome is just a progression of what we see as acceptance we saw under the Varnum decision that marriage equality was a right under the Iowa Constitution.”

The ruling marked the third time the Iowa Supreme Court took up the long-running case that started a decade ago.  A legal fight Godfrey admits is over.

Godfrey, now heads the Office of Workers Compensation for the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington, D.C.

Godfrey who graduated from East High in 1991 appreciated the support he received from this hometown.

Meanwhile, former Governor Branstad says he is incredibility appreciative of the ruling. A statement released on Wednesday says “I have always prided myself on treating people fairly, regardless of their sexual orientation, or any other personal characteristic. The discrimination allegations in this case were completely unfounded and I am so pleased with this result.”

Chris Godfrey Biography:

Christopher J. Godfrey serves as the director of the Office of Workers' Compensation Programs at the U.S. Department of Labor. He was sworn in on January 20, 2021.

With an undergraduate degree from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Godfrey received his Juris Doctorate with honors in 1998 from the same school and passed the Iowa Bar that year.

Before joining the department, Director Godfrey worked for the Employees' Compensation Appeals Board (ECAB) under the administration of President Barack Obama. ECAB is the adjudicatory board within the department with the highest level of appellant review for claims arising under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA). Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez appointed him to the position of Chief Judge and Chairman of ECAB with the goals of decreasing case processing times and the overall volume of pending appeals. He continued to serve as a part of ECAB's leadership until his appointment as OWCP director.

In his legal career, he first worked as a law clerk for Roxanne Conlin and Associates, learning the importance of fighting tenaciously for justice and equality, especially for those injured or harassed in their employment. After several years in the private sector practicing in both state and federal court, where he represented Iowa employers and workers, then-Governor Thomas Vilsack nominated Godfrey to the position of Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner in January 2006.

Following his initial confirmation in 2006, he was renominated by Governor Chet Culver and unanimously reconfirmed by the Iowa Senate in 2009 to a six-year term. As commissioner, he served as the administrative agency head and sole administrative appeals judge for the state's contested workers' compensation claims. While commissioner he successfully transformed the agency to reduce case processing times and reduced a backlog of pending appeals. Although it took well over a year for an appeal to be decided when appointed, by the time Godfrey left the position, appeals were decided during the month of full submission. He served as Iowa's Commissioner until July 2014.

During his career, Director Godfrey has served in leadership roles in several workers' compensation organizations and was awarded a Judicial Achievement Award in 2013, the Esther S. Weissman Eternal Optimism Award from the Workers' Injury Law and Advocacy Group in 2014, and the Roxanne Barton Conlin Award in 2017 from the Iowa Association for Justice. In 2020, he received the Courageous Six award from OneIowa. For this award, he was recognized for his leadership in the Iowa LGBTQ community and his involvement in a landmark legal battle in the state, which involved claims of antidiscrimination, retaliation, and violation of state constitutional rights. An elected member of the National Academy of Social Insurance for his leadership in social insurance programs, he has served in an executive position with the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC).

He is proud of the Iowa Supreme Court decisions bearing his name in his legal battles that commenced in 2011, the second decision which permits Iowa citizens to enforce their state constitutional rights in state court when mistreated by state officials.

Sheila Brummer returns to her radio roots as a Reporter/Special Projects Producer for Siouxland Public Media KWIT-KOJI.
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