Michigan Gov. Whitmer directs changes to use of separation agreements in state government

FILE- In a Dec. 18, 2020 file photo provided by the Michigan Office of the Governor, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Robert Gordon addresses the state in Lansing, Mich. On Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 Gordon resigned his position. He made the announcement without explanation Friday, just hours after signing a revised order to allow restaurants to resume indoor dining on Feb. 1. (Michigan Office of the Governor via AP, File) (Uncredited)

After the controversy surrounding the abrupt resignation and separation agreement involving former Michigan health chief Robert Gordon, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has ordered changes to the use of these agreements in state government.

Whitmer released an Executive Directive on Friday on the use of separation agreements by state departments and agencies.

“The measures laid out in my Executive Directive ensure greater accountability and promote transparency,” said Governor 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.”

Whitmer has faced criticism after it was revealed the Gordon received a $155K payment in a separation agreement that included a confidentially agreement.

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The practice, while not a regular occurrence in state government, has been used in the Michigan Legislature for more than 30 separation deals over the last 10 years, amounting to more than $630,000 in payments.

More: Michigan Legislature had more than $600K in confidential severance deals in past decade

Gov. Whitmer’s Executive Directive (No. 2021-01outlines rules for separation agreements used by the executive branch.

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

In addition, the directive provides 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.

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

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Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / ClickOnDetroit.com. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.