2 aides settle whistleblower suit against Michigan House
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A settlement has been reached between the Michigan House and aides to two former lawmakers who alleged they were wrongfully fired after reporting their bosses’ extramarital affair and other misconduct.
The deal was reached last week, and the settlement was confirmed by Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Kevin Cotter, The Detroit News reported. Details were not immediately available, but the lawsuit had sought unspecified monetary damages.
Keith Allard and Ben Graham sued the state House in December 2015 in federal court. They were joint staffers for ex-Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat until July 2015.
In the lawsuit, Allard and Graham said they alerted Cotter’s aides to “matters of public concern” including their married Republican bosses’ affair, absence at work during business hours and demands that staffers send political emails during hours of state employment. The lawsuit alleges that Cotter’s office covered it up and allowed the aides to be dismissed at the behest of Courser and Gamrat in violation of their whistleblower and free speech rights.
Allard and Graham said Cotter, a Republican, only ordered an investigation after they passed along their concerns to The Detroit News, which in August 2015 broke the scandal by releasing a secret audio recording in which Courser asked Graham to send a sexually explicit phony email saying Courser had been caught having sex with a male prostitute. The staffer refused, and Courser found someone outside government to send it.
The mass email to GOP activists and reporters was an attempt to make the affair less believable if it were exposed by an anonymous blackmailer who was texting Courser and Gamrat. A state police investigation found that Gamrat’s husband, Joe, orchestrated the extortion plot to end the affair.
Cotter has said he knew nothing of allegations of misused resources until the scandal became public. After the lawsuit was filed, he called it “wholly without merit.”
Gamrat was expelled from office, while Courser resigned rather than be kicked out.
Courser is facing criminal charges related to the scandal. He denies wrongdoing. Charges against Gamrat were dismissed by a judge.
Attorney Kathryn Wood, who represented the Michigan House in the lawsuit, and a lawyer representing Allard and Graham did not respond Saturday to requests for comment by The Detroit News.