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Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad Discriminated Against Openly Gay Official, Jury Finds

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  • On Monday, an eight-person jury in Polk County, Iowa found that former governor, Terry Branstad, discriminated against a state official because of his sexual orientation. 
  • The former official, Chris Godfrey, filed the lawsuit against Branstad as well as other officials in the state of Iowa in January 2012. 
  • After seven years, the case finally went to trial in June 2019 and ended six weeks later with the jury awarding Godfrey $1.5 million for emotional distress. 
  • Branstad resigned as Governor in May 2017, after he was appointed as the U.S. Ambassador to China, a role he still holds. 

The Ruling 

A jury in Iowa awarded former state official Chris Godfrey $1.5 million after they determined that he had been discriminated against for his sexual orientation by the governor at the time, Terry Branstad. 

Godfrey, who was Iowa’s commissioner of workers’ compensation, filed a lawsuit against Branstad, the state of Iowa, and other state officials in January 2012. Court records show that after seven years, the case finally went to trial in June 2019 and ended six weeks later with the decision to award Godfrey.

The former state official was awarded $1 million for being denied his constitutional due process rights and another $500,000 for the discrimination and retaliation he faced. 

How This Happened 

Godfrey was appointed Iowa’s workers’ compensation commissioner in 2006 and was reappointed just before Terry Branstad became Iowa’s governor in 2011. Godfrey says that once Branstad came into office, he asked Godfrey to resign from his role. The state official refused and as a result, his salary was cut by almost $40,000. 

In Iowa, a commissioner holds their position for 6 years to protect it from partisan politics. However, the governor is able to ask a commissioner to step down from their role and if that request is refused, the governor can reduce the commissioner’s pay. According to local reports, Godfrey was one of 29 appointees Branstad asked to resign when he came into office. 

Throughout the lawsuit, Branstad insisted he did not know Godfrey’s sexual orientation and asked him to resign due to concerns that businesses had. 

However as the case continued, Branstad later admitted that Godfrey had only received positive reviews. 

When the lawsuit went to trial in June 2019, Godfrey’s lawyer argued that he was shunned by Branstad’s office because he was the only openly gay man working as an executive at the time. The attorney noted specific examples, like how Godfrey was not invited to a retreat for Branstad’s department heads and executive staff. 

In addition to Godfrey, other officials in Iowa have spoken out about Branstad, like current Polk County Supervisor Matt McCoy. 

During the trial, McCoy testified that Branstad’s administration was a “men’s club,” and added that “being gay in 2011 through 2015 was not an easy thing and [Godfrey] was definitely experiencing discrimination.” 

As for Godfrey, he explained that the lawsuit for him was about getting justice. “After I had been asked to resign twice, after my pay was slashed, I felt obviously personally attacked, I needed justice,” he told the court. 

What happened to Branstad?

As for the former governor, in December 2016 he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to China by President Donald Trump. Branstad was later confirmed in May 2017, after a vote 82 to 13, and he resigned as governor two days later. 

According to The Economist, Branstad and China’s ambassador are “old friends,” which is considered a great compliment in Chinese culture. The two met in 1985 during Branstad’s first term as Iowa’s governor. The article notes that in 2015, Iowa’s agricultural exports to China made up $1.4 billion of the $2.3 billion exported from the U.S.

See what others are saying: (AP News) (13NOW) (Des Moines Register)

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Virginia Governor Declares State of Emergency Prior to Pro-Gun Rally

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  • The governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency on Wednesday ahead of a pro-gun rights demonstration next week, banning firearms from the Capitol grounds of Richmond for several days.
  • Gov. Ralph Northam warned of “credible threats” from outside groups that are planning to disrupt the assembly with violence.  
  • The demonstration, organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is scheduled to take place Monday, Jan. 20 on the state’s Capitol grounds. 
  • Lobbyists plan to protest gun control bills that are being pushed by the state’s government, which Democrats have recently taken control of for the first time in a generation.

State of Emergency Declared

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a temporary state of emergency on Wednesday in preparation for the pro-gun rights rally set to take place in the capital early next week. 

“We have received credible intelligence from our law enforcement agencies that there are groups with malicious plans for the rally that is planned for Monday,” Northam said at a press conference. “This includes out-of-state militia groups and hate groups planning to travel from across the country to disrupt our democratic process with acts of violence.”

“They are not coming to peacefully protest,” he added. “They are coming to intimidate and to cause harm.” 

In preparation for this possibility, Northam released an executive order detailing the state of emergency that will be set in place from Friday evening until Tuesday evening. Throughout this stretch of time, firearms and other weapons will be prohibited from the Capitol grounds in Richmond.  

Northam said that state intelligence analysts have identified rhetoric and threats similar to what was seen prior to the 2017 deadly “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one person dead directly from the violence and dozens more injured. 

“No one wants another incident like the one we saw in Charlottesville in 2017,” Northam said. “We will not allow that mayhem and violence to happen here.”

Monday’s Plans

The rally that Northam is preparing for is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) and will take place on Monday, Jan. 20 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 

Northam asked the organizers of Monday’s event to “disavow” any groups who threaten violence, according to NPR.

On their frequently-asked-questions page, the VCDL writes that their annual Lobby Day is intended to be a “peaceful event” and encourages attendees to disengage if faced with any kind of harassment.

The VCDL emphasizes the sole purpose of the demonstration is for gun rights supporters to protest gun control bills that are moving forward under a new slate of lawmakers.

Earlier this month, Democrats took over as the majority group in both houses of Virginia legislature, a dynamic that hasn’t been seen in over 25 years. Many of these lawmakers have pledged to support Gov. Northam’s proposed measures to regulate and restrict firearms. 

Philip Van Cleave, the president of the pro-gun group, told CNN on Wednesday that he “doesn’t believe the governor has the right to ban weapons.”

Later on Monday, the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention will also be assembling at the capital for their annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day vigil to honor victims of gun violence. A coordinator for the vigil was advised to push back the start time to avoid the big crowds from the pro-gun rally, according to a local news outlet

See what others are saying: (NPR) (CNN) (ABC)

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Student Expelled From Christian School After Rainbow-Filled Photo

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  • A 15-year old girl was expelled from a private Christian school after her mother, Kimberly Alford, shared a photo of her wearing a rainbow-striped sweater next to a colorful cake. 
  • Alford said the color scheme was a coincidence with no LGBTQ meaning, but the school interpreted the post that way and said it contradicts its beliefs.
  • The school later clarified that the teen was not expelled for the photo alone but also for repeated student conduct violations.
  • While Alford admitted her daughter had made previous violations, she still argued that the repercussions for the photo were unjust.

Teen’s Expulsion

A private Christian school in Louisville, Kentucky expelled a student last week after her mother posted a photo of the teenager wearing a rainbow shirt posing next to a colorful cake.

Fifteen-year-old Kayla Kenney celebrated her recent birthday with a small gathering out at a restaurant at the end of December. Her mom, Kimberly Alford, set up the event and posted a photo of Kenney to Facebook shortly after.

The image shows the girl grinning to the camera with a frosted rainbow birthday cake sitting before her. The cake’s decor matches the striped rainbow design on Kenney’s sweater.

Credit: Kimberly Alford.

On Jan. 6, Alford said she received an email from Bruce Jacobson, the head of Whitefield Academy where her daughter is a student. In it, Jacobson allegedly said that Kenney was being expelled over the post and attached the image in his message.

“The WA Administration has been made aware of a recent picture, posted on social media, which demonstrates a posture of morality and cultural acceptance contrary to that of Whitefield Academy’s beliefs,” Jacobson wrote, according to Alford.

“We made it clear that any further promotion, celebration or any other action and attitudes counter to Whitefield’s philosophy will not be tolerated.”

The school’s reaction to the birthday image baffled the family. Although a rainbow is widely recognized and used as a symbol of LGBTQ pride and support, Alford said the color scheme was just a coincidence with no deeper meaning for her daughter. 

“Rainbows don’t mean you’re a certain gender or certain sex or sexuality,” Alford told The Washington Post. “I’m not saying she’s this or that — she’s just Kayla to me… I ordered the cake, she didn’t.”

School’s Rationale

In a later statement, Whitefield Academy clarified that this was not Kenney’s first breach of their protocol. The school condemned “inaccurate media reports” for making it seem like the expulsion was solely based on the cake photo and said that the teenager had “unfortunately violated our student code of conduct numerous times over the past two years.”

Alford acknowledged that her daughter had misstepped in the past, and cited instances of Kenney being found with e-cigarette paraphernalia and ditching class one day after lunch. She said that in October, after an e-cigarette incident, her daughter had been put on probation. 

But the cake picture being the last straw made no sense to Alford or her daughter.

 “She was really hurt. She was very upset because she thought, ‘All my friends are going back to school in the morning, and I don’t have anywhere to go,’” Alford told The Washington Post

She added that her daughter told her, “‘Mom, I didn’t do anything wrong.’”

Whitefield Academy, which serves as a ministry of the Highview Baptist Church, disagreed. According to the school’s parent/student handbook, the Biblical role of the school is to work with families to “mold students to be Christ-like.”

“On occasion, the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home may be counter or in opposition to the Biblical lifestyle the school teaches,” the handbook states. “This includes, but is not limited to, sexual immorality, homosexual orientation, or the inability to support Biblical standards of right and wrong.”

The handbook notes that the school reserves the right to refuse admission or discontinue enrollment of any students who may go against its religious beliefs. According to a local Kentucky news outlet, The Courier-Journal, exemptions for faith-based schools in Louisville’s Fairness Ordinance grant Whitefield Academy the authority to do this. 

Alford appealed her daughter’s expulsion but reported that she was denied. She said that administrators did agree to change the expulsion to a “voluntary withdrawal” as to not reflect poorly on Kenney’s record.

The mother said her daughter is now attending a public school and has received overwhelming support from friends at her former school, though she still thinks Kenney was treated “unjustly” and that is why she’s chosen to make the story known.

“I just want to defend her in a graceful way,” Alford told NBC. “I want to stand up for my child,” she said. “Just treat people with kindness and love, and don’t be judgmental.”

See what others are saying: (NBC) (WAVE3) (ABC)

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At Least 60 Treated After Delta Jet Dumps Fuel Over LA Schools

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  • A Delta flight headed for Shanghai was ordered to return to LAX shortly after departure due to an engine issue. 
  • To reach a safe landing weight, the plane released jet fuel that showered over six LA schools, causing minor injuries to at least 60 students and adults. 
  • Though rare, fuel dumping typically happens at high altitudes or over an unpopulated area. 
  • Local officials are demanding answers and accountability and the Federal Aviation Administration is launching an investigation to understand why normal fuel dumping procedures were not followed. 

Dozens Treated for Injuries 

At least 60 people were treated for minor injuries on Tuesday after a Delta flight making an emergency return to Los Angeles International Airport dumped fuel over several local schools.  

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Unified School district confirmed that a low-flying plane discharged jet fuel around noon, however, the district could not confirm how many campuses were affected. Based on reports of injuries, it’s estimated that it was at least six. 

Approximately 20 schoolchildren and 11 adults from Park Avenue Elementary School were treated after they were exposed to fuel that rained on over a playground, according to LA County firefighters. 

In a statement, the district said, “Students and staff were on the playground at the time and may have been sprayed by fuel or inhaled fumes. Schools immediately called paramedics, who are on the scene and are treating anyone who is complaining of skin irritation or breathing problems.”

“Educators are also visiting every classroom to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all students and staff,” it added. 

Several other students and adults treated were from San Gabriel Avenue Elementary and Tweedy Elementary in South Gate, Jordan High and 93rd Street Elementary in South Los Angeles and Graham Elementary in Inglewood. 

Many patients complained of skin and eye irritation but were treated with soap and water and were not taken to the hospital. Others also reported a strong toxic smell that lingered in neighborhoods, making it hard to breathe. 

Emergency Landing 

LAX officials said a Delta Boeing 777 on its way to Shanghai when it declared a mechanical emergency shortly after takeoff and was ordered to return to the airport. 

According to an online flight tracker, the plane turned around just 24 minutes after departure. 

None of the 149 passengers on board were injured and the aircraft landed safely after the release of fuel, which Delta said was “required as part of normal procedure to reach a safe landing weight.”

However, according to aviation safety experts, the move is rare and in most cases, it’s done over water or unpopulated areas at a high altitude so that the fuel can disperse and vaporize before reaching the ground. 

Delta released a statement about the incident acknowledging the impact it had, saying, “We are concerned about reports of impacts on the ground from the fuel release, and are in close communication with Delta and first responders as their investigators continue. We thank LA County Fire, the LA Fire Department and other responding agencies for their fast response and we are working to learn more.”

Locals Demand Investigation 

Residents and local officials have expressed anger over the incident, demanding answers and action. 

“Sadly, our entire community has been adversely impacted by this incident, including dozens of children,” Cudahy City Councilman Jack Guerrero said. “I am calling for a full federal investigation into the matter and expect full accountability from responsible parties.”

On Tuesday afternoon, the Federal Aviation Administration promised to investigate. 

“The FAA is thoroughly investigating the circumstances behind today’s incident involving a Delta Air Lines flight that was returning to Los Angeles International Airport,”  the agency said in a statement before acknowledging that the move was unusual.

“There are special fuel-dumping procedures for aircraft operating into and out of any major U.S. airport. These procedures call for fuel to be dumped over designated unpopulated areas, typically at higher altitudes so the fuel atomizes and disperses before it reaches the ground,” the agency added.

Health officials advise anyone who might have been hit by the jet fuel to shower, get rid of the clothing sprayed, and seek medical attention if symptoms persist.

See what others are saying: (CBS LA) (Los Angeles Times) (USA Today

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