Although his former colleagues did not know it, Michael Brodkorb recorded the moment the axe came down, ending his employment with the Minnesota Senate. FOX 9 News has obtained exclusive access to the files.
The tapes could play a key role in the federal lawsuit currently working its way through the courts. Brodkorb claims gender discrimination led to his wrongful termination after his extramarital affair with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch became public.
Brodkorb made the recordings with a program on his iPhone. Under Minnesota law, the recording is legal because only the person who is making the recording needs to be aware of it.
In some ways, the recording was his insurance policy. The question now is whether they show a man getting a raw deal simply because he had an affair with a more powerful woman or whether he was a political liability who had to go.
Of all the places to get fired, the Moose Country Bar and Grill in Mendota Heights must be one of the most surreal venues of all. Yet, it was there -- right next to the stuffed moose, that former Senate Communications Director Michael Brodkorb got a happy-hour surprise.
"The Democrats would blame the Lindberg kidnapping on me if they could," Brodkorb says on the audio.
But it was his fellow Republicans who were about to turn the tables. Brodkorb had been invited to the bar by Kevin Matzek, an old friend and the interim chief of staff.
"What are you hearing? What do you know?" Matzek asked.
"I don't know," Brodkorb responds. "You were the one who called the meeting."
"Look, I don't want to be confrontational," Matzek begins.
The tension was understandable. Just 48 hours earlier, Koch had resigned and four male senators had gone before the cameras to say she had an inappropriate relationship with an unnamed staffer.
Brodkorb believes his name was intentionally leaked.
"Look who just walked in," he said in the recording.
Suddenly, an uninvited guest appeared: Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman.
"I know you're surprised to see me," he said.
"Good," Brodkorb replied.
"I need five minutes of your time," Ludeman continued.
Brodkorb was being let go.
"What's the basis of termination?" Brodkorb asked.
"As you know, you signed an affidavit that you're 'at will,'" Ludeman explained. "The caucus is going in a new direction and you are not an employee."
Ludeman then offers Brodkorb "a chance to resign" or accept "a voluntary termination."
"On advice of counsel, I'm going to refrain from making any decisions," Brodkorb replied. "What I'm hearing from you today is ... I am being fired."
"You are terminated, as of right now," Ludeman said.
Brodkorb turned over his keys. Later that night, the sergeant of arms took him to his office and he cleared out his desk.
Two days later, Brodkorb spoke on the phone with then-Senate President Michelle Fischbach.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"I'm living minute to minute," Brodkorb admitted.
During the conversation, Fischbach is clearly sympathetic to Brodkorb's case.
"They've messed this up in every possible way they can," she said.
Fischbach had little patience for the senators who orchestrated Brodkorb's firing.
"They're so f---ing righteous," she continued.
"I think this is a power play," Brodkorb stated.
Fischbach, like the others, did not know the conversation was being recorded while the pair continued to talk, mentioning male senators who had affairs with female staffers. In fact, the duo spoke of the same lawmakers whose names were revealed in a recent court filing before it was sealed.
"If it was a male senator and a female staffer, do you think they'd fire the female staffer?" Brodkorb asked.
"No. No, I don't," Fischbach replied. "I think there's been an incredible double-standard here. … You were wrongfully terminated."
Employment attorney and former Human Rights Commissioner Stephen Cooper listened to the tapes at the request of FOX 9 News, and he said "it helps tremendously" that Fischbach shared her opinion even though she was not involved in the decision to fire Brodkorb.
"She, nonetheless, is in her position and agreed with his analysis," Cooper explained.
Although Cooper does not believe the Fischbach phone call is a game changer, he said it is helpful because, at the very least, the tapes reveal how poorly the firing was handled -- let go at a public restaurant, and Brodkorb alleged to FIschbach that no one even bothered to get his side of the story.
"Nobody, at any point, even asked me if this ... was a matter related to harassment, whether this was consensual or not -- or whether anything at all," he told Fischbach over the phone.
"That would be Human Relations 101," Cooper told FOX 9. "The fact that they didn't do that would show that they were in a tremendous hurry."
In the end, Minnesota taxpayers are all paying for that decision. The price tag for the Senate's outside attorneys has already reached $225,000 and could easily touch $1 million.
That day at Moose Country, Brodkorb may have been preparing for his lawsuit by recording the conversations. He ended up picking up the check, but it may cost the state so much more than that.
"Do you feel comfortable getting home?" Ludeman asked Brodkorb.
"Yeah, I'm completely fine," he replied.
On Thursday afternoon, Fischbach sent FOX 9 News a statement saying:
"My comments to Michael Brodkorb were made as a friend trying to be supportive of someone in a difficult situation, who was losing his job and possibly losing his family all at the same time. I was not speaking on behalf of the Senate, but only talking to someone who I then thought of as a friend in need of emotional support and who I didn't think would secretly record the call. I had not been involved in Michael's termination, was not privy to the decision to discharge him or reasons for it, and had not been involved in prior terminations of Senate staff members. I did not know whether a staff member could be discharged at will although I now understand that staff members can be lawfully discharged under such circumstances."
Brodkorb's attorneys issued their own statement in response, which reads as follows:
"We believe statements from then-Senate President Michelle Fischbach, about the a huge 'double-standard' and that he had been 'wrongfully terminated' support Mr. Brodkorb's legal claim he was wrongly terminated from the Minnesota Senate."