The Michigan House of Representatives has settled a wrongful termination lawsuit involving Keith Allard and Benjamin Graham, two staffers to former state Reps. Todd Courser (R–Lapeer) and Cindy Gamrat (R–Plainwell).
Courser and Gamrat were forced out of the state House of Representatives following a high-profile sex scandal and attempted cover-up in September 2015. Both Allard and Graham were fired by the two lawmakers when allegedly they refused help in the cover-up efforts.
The settlement, coming from the U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, will award $169,985.42 to each staffer and over $175,029.16 to their legal teams. In a statement, House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R–Mt. Pleasant) said the settlement was reached to avoid accruing further legal and court fees.
“All of the parties believe now that settlement avoids further expensive litigation and is in the best interest of everyone, including the House as an institution and the Michigan taxpayers,” Cotter said in a joint statement with Allard and Graham, according to the Detroit Free Press.
In addition to paying the settlement ordered by the court, the House of Representatives was ordered to pay the legal fees for Allard and Graham in a federal court case against the two staffers brought by Courser and Gamrat. In total, the House of Representatives will be expected to pay out over $515,000 to Allard and Graham.
The incidents unfolded after Courser and Gamrat, who were both elected on Tea Party Republican platforms, were revealed to be engaging in an extramarital affair with each other in August 2015.
In response to rumors of the affair, Courser allegedly attempted to circulate an email to supporters in which he claimed to have been caught behind a Lansing gay bar soliciting sex from a male prostitute. The email, which was drafted by Courser, was supposed to be a distraction from the negative publicity coming from the affair.
A House committee later exposed that both lawmakers were improperly using taxpayer resources and attempted to engage in a cover-up.
In September 2015, Courser tendered his resignation to the House during removal proceedings. Gamrat, who did not willingly resign, was forced to vacate her seat following a 91-12 removal vote from the Michigan House of Representatives.
Cotter noted in his joint statement that staffers Allard and Graham acted properly by alerting the House to the allegations of wrongdoing.
“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,” Cotter said.
Allard and Graham’s attorney, Sarah Riley Howard, said both staffers felt they reached a fair settlement that validated their actions.
“(The settlement) vindicates what we have been saying all along: Keith and Ben were unfairly and illegally fired after stepping forward to speak out about the illegal and unethical conduct of their supervisors, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat,” Howard said. “When Keith and Ben turned to House leadership and its top staff for guidance and support, they instead lost their jobs and had their lives turned upside down for more than a year.
Allard and Graham also have a civil suit pending in the Ingham County Circuit Court against Courser and Gamrat.