Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive Friday to prohibit separation agreements for state employees that include a confidentiality clause and requires review by the attorney general before submission.
Under Executive Directive No. 2021-01, separation agreements are prohibited to require a party to deny the existence of the agreement or prevent the release of the text of the agreement. It also 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.
This all comes after controversy spiraled from former Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) Director Robert Gordon’s more than $155,000 separation agreement after resigning suddenly from the department suddenly in late January. After weeks of silence regarding Gordon’s resignation, news broke that his severance package was in exchange for “releasing all claims against” the state.
Several other severance agreements with state employees have since been uncovered, including Former Unemployment Insurance Agency head Steve Gray, who received $85,872 for his severance agreement after resigning in November, former health department deputy director Sarah Esty, who received a four-week paid administrative leave period beginning Jan. 31 until late February and Jeff Mason, the former CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp. (MEDC), received $128,500 in severance.
“The measures laid out in my Executive Directive ensure greater accountability and promote transparency,” Whitmer said in a statement. “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.”
The directive also requires 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.