The two whistleblowers who filed a workplace retaliation lawsuit against Rep. Tammy Duckworth over her time as director of the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs are taking their case directly to voters in a new ad for Sen. Mark Kirk.
"She said to me point blank: keep your mouth shut and you won't be fired," Denise Goins says at the beginning of the ad titled 'Priorities,' marking the first time she and Christine Butler have spoken publicly about the 8-year-old case since July.
Goins, a human resources secretary at the Anna Veterans' Home in southern Illinois, alleged in the lawsuit that her complaints to Duckworth about the facility's director were ignored and led to an unfavorable performance review that prevented her from receiving a raise.
The suit was settled in late June, just over a month before it was scheduled to go to trial in mid-August, though the settlement has not been finalized. Plaintiffs Goins and Christine Butler were reportedly offended by the Duckworth campaign's response to the settlement, according to the Daily Herald, and attempted to reject the offer before the case was removed from the trial docket.
"Director Tammy Duckworth was trying to protect Governor Blagojevich. I believe she put her personal aspirations ahead of the veterans' care," Butler says in the ad, one of several attempts by the Kirk campaign to link Duckworth to the incarcerated former governor who appointed her to head the IDVA. "The veteran was not Tammy Duckworth's top priority."
Butler claimed in the suit that she was fired from her administrative role for insubordination after filing complaints against the same supervisor as Goins. Duckworth reversed that decision and instead issued a reprimand with paid suspension after meeting with Butler and being told that she first had to follow written disciplinary procedures.
Goins and Butler, who both continue to work at the veterans' home, sought compensation of at least $50,000 as well as other financial penalties.
“The story this ad purports to tell is a lie, pure and simple, and Senator Kirk knows it," Duckworth campaign spokesman Matt McGrath said in a statement Monday. "The lawsuit was called a ‘garden variety workplace case’ by a federal judge, and has been dismissed in whole or in part three times. Indeed, the plaintiffs agreed to settle the case for what the Attorney General called 'nuisance value,' before Senator Kirk cynically recruited them to star in a political commercial. Tammy Duckworth, a decorated combat veteran, has spent her entire adult life defending our country and assuring that Veterans are treated with respect. Tammy gets her own health care from the VA, and she makes no apology for fighting to assure that Veterans are given nothing but the highest quality care.
McGrath alleged Kirk has lied about his own military record and called the claims in the ad "pathetic."
"[Kirk] should salvage what’s left of his dignity, apologize to Veterans, and pull this shameless ad," the statement read.
Duckworth herself also called it a "nuisance lawsuit" and said "[the ad] shows the work of desperation."
"You know, Sen. Kirk has no plan for the economy, no plan for what he's going to do for the state or this nation when it comes to helping hard working Americans," she added.
Kirk spokesperson Kevin Artl told NBC5 that he won't give permission to send the ad to Duckworth's campaign early. The ad was scheduled to begin airing in the Chicago area on Monday.