Gov. Whitmer releases executive directive on separation agreements

State has new separation agreement rules
Published: Mar. 12, 2021 at 11:46 AM EST|Updated: Mar. 12, 2021 at 5:27 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has released an executive directive on the use of separation agreements by state departments and agencies. As her first executive directive of 2021, Gov. Whitmer says it safeguards the state from costly litigation and, “reaffirms a commitment to accountability and transparency.”

“The measures laid out in my Executive Directive ensure greater accountability and promote transparency,” said Gov. Whitmer. “Michiganders should have confidence in the activities of state government, including the expenditure of public funds on separation agreements. I am proud of these measures because they will benefit both state employees and the people of Michigan.”

Republican State Senator Tom Barrett (Potterville) thinks the directive is just a front to distract from the controversy surrounding the separation agreement between the state and former Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon.

“Obviously, the Governor is trying her best to get out of a politically toxic situation for her dismissal of Robert Gordon, the secrecy behind it, the cash payout, the hush money,” Barrett said. “The Governor is trying her best to desperately grasp anything she can to get out of this, so she issues this very weak-worded executive directive, nothing of which in it would have changed the underlying ability of her to issue the same type of hush money payout to any other employee.”

Gov. Whitmer insists that Gordon wasn’t dismissed and says these types of agreements are common.

Democratic State Senator Curtis Hertel Jr (East Lansing) says today’s announcement was reasonable and productive. Hertel says Michigan Republicans didn’t have a problem with similar agreements when Rick Snyder was governor.

“Now we have a governor that’s actually working to save lives around the state, and because she happens to have a ‘D’ in front of her name, all of a sudden, everything is a political issue,” Hertell says. “I would say that if it was intellectually consistent that would be fine. But we actually have a problem that we could solve.

Senator Barrett though doesn’t believe today’s directive was actually aimed at solving a problem.

“I think it’s just a total head fake, I’m disappointed,” Barrett said. “I wish it was stronger. If the Governor had said ‘I’m not allowing any of these,’ then that would have been a much different conversation and I would have been pleased that she actually was doing that.”

Executive Directive No. 2021-01 defines rules for separation agreements used by the executive branch.

The directive bans terms in separation agreements that require a party to deny the existence of the agreement or prevent the release of the text of the said agreement.

Additionally, the directive states that any separation agreement involving a monetary payment must secure a release of claims and be based on a reasonable judgment that securing the release of claims will mitigate financial risk for the state and protect taxpayer money.

Under the new directive, separation agreements cannot deny a party the right or opportunity to disclose the underlying facts and circumstances regarding unlawful workplace acts including discrimination, retaliation, sexual harassment, or fraud. A clause that protects the identity of a victim, however, may be included at the request of the victim.

Prior to finalization, all separation agreements must be submitted to the Attorney General for review.

The Directive can be read in full HERE.

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