Judge Advances Suit Over Political Imbroglio

     GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) — Legislative aides who say they got canned after refusing to cover up a political affair can advance wrongful-termination claims, a federal judge ruled.
     Keith Allard and Benjamin Graham were fired last summer before even finishing one year as chiefs of staff for former Michigan House Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, respectively.
     The complaint Allard and Graham filed in December gives bizarre insight to the truncated terms of Courser and Gamrat, a pair of Tea Party conservatives elected in 2015 who claimed that their Christian faith informed their political opinions.
     Allard and Graham said the Republicans were married to other people but that it quickly became apparent that they “were engaging in an extramarital affair.”
     What began with the unusual move of Courser and Gamrat combining their legislative offices soon turned more bizarre.
     Graham and Allard say Gamrat had instructed staffers to conceal her whereabouts from her husband, but the cuckolded man confronted the politicians about their affair in February 2015 at the Lansing Radisson Hotel.
     That morning, according to the complaint, Allard got an awkward phone call from Gamrat’s husband. He allegedly said he had gotten into a verbal confrontation at the Radisson, and hotel security had to remove him from the premises.
     “Cindy Gamrat and Courser were both late to the office that morning, appeared disheveled, and exhibited bizarre behavior,” the complaint states. “In particular, Cindy Gamrat smelled of alcohol.”
     The complaint alleges that Courser and Gamrat’s staffs wound up working “extensive hours on nights and weekends to make up for the lack of time Courser and Gamrat were putting in during actual work hours.”
     As rumors of the affair swirled in Lansing political circles, Courser asked Graham to send an anonymous email to constituents “accusing Courser of having sex with a male prostitute and being a drug abuser, among other things,” the complaint states.
     Graham says Courser called the email a “controlled burn to inoculate the herd if news of his actual extramarital affair with Gamrat ever broke.”
     Courser and Gamrat allegedly had Graham fired after the aide refused.
     Graham and Allard say the House Business Office confirmed his and Allard’s termination without ever interviewing the staffers about the representatives’ affair.
     By then, the staffers had spoken to the press about the affair, and they claim the business office retaliated against them by allowing inaccurate reports of the hearing and investigation process to remain on the internet for 24 hours. These reports were unredacted and contained the staffers’ Social Security numbers and other identifying information, they claim.
     Someone eventually did press send on the “male prostitute” email about Courser, but the bogus story did not protect the politicians.
     Each was charged with multiple counts of misconduct in public office, and Courser was charged with perjury, for the affair. Local news reports indicate that Gamrat’s charges have since been dismissed.
     On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Gordon Quist largely rejected a motion by the Michigan House of Representatives to dismiss the former staffers’ complaint.
     Since the aides brought up misuse of public money, Quist found that they are acting as private citizens reporting a matter of “public concern,” thus qualifying to proceed with First Amendment and state whistleblower claims.
     Quist also ruled that the report on the aides’ termination is not immune as “legislative activity,” and can also be pursued under the First Amendment.
     Quist did toss the aides’ privacy claim, finding no evidence that the business office published any private information intentionally.
     Sarah Howard, an attorney for the former aides with Pinsky Smith Fayette & Kennedy, was in a meeting when reached by phone for comment Tuesday morning.
     Jeffery Stuckey, an attorney for the state House with Lansing-based Dickinson Wright, has not returned a voicemail requesting comment.

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