Michigan House to pay $515K in suit related to sex scandal

By David Eggert
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan House of Representatives will pay $515,000 in a settlement with two former legislative aides who alleged they were wrongfully fired and publicly humiliated after reporting two lawmakers’ extramarital affair and misconduct.

An agreement released Tuesday says Keith Allard and Benjamin Graham will be paid about $170,000 each. Their lawyer’s firm will receive $175,000.

The men filed a federal lawsuit nearly a year ago, saying they alerted Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter’s aides to “matters of public concern” including their married bosses’ affair, absence at work during business hours and demands that staffers send political emails during hours of state employment. They alleged that Cotter’s office covered it up and let them be dismissed in July 2015 at the behest of ex-Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat in violation of their whistleblower and free speech rights.

Gamrat, of Plainwell, later was expelled from office while Courser, of Lapeer, resigned rather than be kicked out.

Under the settlement, the current claims were dismissed, and the plaintiffs cannot file future suits against the House or its current and past members in their official capacity. The parties agreed that the settlement should not be construed as an admission of liability. The House will cover the ex-aides’ legal defense in a lawsuit that Courser and Gamrat brought against the House and others.

In a joint statement, Cotter, Allard and Graham said the settlement “avoids further expensive litigation and is in the best interest of everyone, including the House as an institution and the Michigan taxpayers. Notwithstanding any of the other differences between the parties, the House appreciates that Mr. Allard and Mr. Graham did the right thing and brought serious concerns about the activities of Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat to light, allowing the House to take appropriate action.”

In May 2015, Courser asked Graham to send an outlandishly bogus, sexually explicit email to thousands of fellow Republicans as a trick so his affair with Gamrat — a fellow married, freshman tea party conservative — would not be believed if it was revealed by an anonymous extortionist. A state police investigation found that Gamrat’s husband orchestrated the extortion plot to end the affair.

Graham, who gave a secret recording of the meeting to The Detroit News after he was fired, later testified that he refused to send the email because he thought it was unethical and possibly illegal. A judge dismissed criminal charges against Gamrat, but Courser still faces some charges.

Sarah Riley Howard, the attorney for Graham and Allard, said the settlement vindicates what her clients had been saying about a “horribly bungled situation.”

“Keith and Ben only wanted their jobs back and an apology,” she said. “Instead, they were dragged into lengthy litigation and found themselves the focus of intense — and unwanted — media scrutiny. They are relieved to have reached a financial settlement.”