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Former employee details lawsuit against Dayton
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Brad Hanson, a former employee of U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton, is suing Dayton over his firing. Hanson claims he was fired because he had health problems which required extensive time off. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
The man suing U.S. Sen. Mark Dayton for firing him spoke publicly this week for the first time about his lawsuit. Brad Hanson ran Dayton's Health Care Help Line. He says he was fired in July 2002, after telling Dayton he needed heart surgery. Dayton won't discuss Hanson's firing, but his chief of staff says Hanson was fired because he didn't do his job.

St. Paul, Minn. — Brad Hanson began working for Mark Dayton's U.S. Senate campaign in the summer of 2000. Hanson helped Dayton start up a hotline to help Minnesotans trying to get their health care covered by their insurance companies. Hanson continued to run the Health Care Help Line after Dayton was elected, and also worked as Dayton's state office manager.

Hanson says he routinely worked 60-hour weeks, and began having health problems. Hanson says he has had an irregular heartbeat since he was 25, and began having more heart problems in 2002. His doctors recommended he have surgery at the Mayo Clinic, and Hanson met with Dayton to tell him he needed to take several weeks off for the surgery.

Hanson says the meeting lasted just a couple of minutes, ending, Hanson says, when Dayton told him, "you're done."

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Image Sen. Dayton

"I thought he was kidding at first," Hanson says. "In fact, what I really expected him to say was, 'You go home, you take care of yourself, what are you doing here?' That's what I expected. This was the Mark I knew, I thought."

"That isn't what he said," Hanson recalls. "He said, 'I won't have dissension here.' I said, 'Mark, what dissension?' He said, 'You know, you put yourself above other people.' And I said, 'Can you tell me how?' And he wouldn't say anything, he just got rigid and he just sat and looked at me."

Hanson says he hasn't spoken to Dayton since. Dayton wouldn't comment for this story because Hanson's firing is a pending legal matter. In a recent conference call with reporters, Dayton said he's proud of his record as an employer.

"Mr. Hanson is alleging facts that I strongly dispute. ... He has a very different view of the matter than I do," said Dayton.

Dayton's chief of staff, Sarah Dahlin, said in a statement that Hanson was fired because he consistently failed to meet the needs of constituents. Dahlin says Hanson didn't take care of requests for help from more than 100 Minnesotans. She says Hanson's firing had nothing to do with his health problem.

To assert that Mark would take action against an employee for any sort of health problem is absolutely preposterous.
- Sarah Dahlin, Dayton's chief of staff

"In just the past three years, three members of our staff have suffered serious health problems which required major surgery and extended work absences. In each case, Mark personally assured the staff member their job was secure, no matter how long they needed to be out of the office for treatment and recovery. To assert that Mark would take action against an employee for any sort of health problem is absolutely preposterous," says Dahlin.

Dayton has asked a federal judge to dismiss the case. Senate attorneys argue that members of Congress are protected from lawsuits over personnel matters. Hanson's attorneys say the Congressional Accountability Act passed in 1995 made Congress subject to employment laws.

Hanson says he still doesn't understand why Dayton fired him. He met Dayton 14 years ago, when their two youngest sons -- both named Andrew -- became friends. Hanson, 49, says he and Dayton became close friends as well.

Once he joined the campaign, Hanson says the two had a good working relationship. He says he understood that Dayton was busy running a campaign.

"And I had no problem that he was the guy, he was busy. In fact, when some employees would complain about the way he'd talk and stuff, I'd say, 'Look, he's the boss. If you don't like it, you know, you need to find a different boss because this is the way he is,'" says Hanson. "He's very abrupt, and he's very quick and he's move, move, move, we all gotta go hard, you know, that was the way he was."

Hanson said he believed in the Health Care Help Line. His wife's younger sister died of cancer, and Hanson believes she might have lived if her insurance company had been more responsive. When Dayton won the election, Hanson said Dayton credited the help line with his victory.

Hanson had two surgeries to fix his heart problem, and says he's now doing well. He was unemployed for about a year, and recently started a new job, although he declined to say what he's doing. He says he's seeking back pay and overtime pay. Dayton's motion to dismiss Hanson's lawsuit is pending before a federal judge in Washington, D.C.

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