DETROIT (CN) – Two former chief deputy clerks in Michigan filed a whistleblower lawsuit against Macomb County and its newly elected county clerk, claiming she fired them after they reported her erratic management style to the county ethics board.
Paul Kardasz and Erin Stahl were let go shortly after they filed their complaints following months of friction in the wake of County Clerk Karen Spranger’s November election, according to a lawsuit they filed Friday in Detroit federal court.
“They were terminated by the recently elected County Clerk Karen Spranger because they reported to other Macomb County officials and the public that the Clerk was unfit to serve in this vital role and that citizens dependent on the services of the Clerk’s office were being harmed by the mismanagement of that office which by March 2017 was in full blown crisis mode,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit says Spranger, who took office Jan. 3, administered the oath of office to two non-employees and allowed them access to confidential records on the computer system.
One of those people accessed restricted employee information and caused Spranger’s network access to be suspended by the county for two months, according to the complaint and local news reports.
When the county initially offered to lift the suspension if Spranger would adhere to county regulations, she allegedly refused and continued to work without access to email and vital information needed for her job.
The Detroit Free Press reported that Spranger’s computer access was restored March 15 after she signed an acknowledgement about the county’s technology policy.
Kardasz and Stahl also claim Spranger referred to unionized workers as “enemies” and was openly disrespectful to them in the workplace. They say she became obsessed with trying to remove union-protected workers, including the chief court clerk, supervisor of records and administrative coordinator, but was unable to do so.
When Spranger was told by Kardasz and Stahl that she was prohibited from firing unionized workers, she allegedly tried to force them to quit. When the workers filed grievances, she refused to participate in the arbitration procedures mandated by a collective bargaining agreement, the lawsuit states.
Kardasz and Stahl were met with derision from Spranger when they encouraged her to follow procedures, according to the lawsuit. Kardasz was belittled for his effort and Spranger completely cut off communications with Stahl, they claim.
The lawsuit alleges the Macomb County Clerk’s Office was on the “brink of collapse” when Kardasz decided to file a complaint with the Macomb County Ethics Board about Spranger’s behavior on March 10, and Spranger fired him two days later.
Stahl filed a complaint March 12 asking the board to “put a stop to her unethical behavior before it further escalates and harms the people we are sworn to serve,” according to the lawsuit. She says she was fired the next day.
The former clerks seek reinstatement to their jobs and compensatory and punitive damages for claims of free-speech retaliation and violation of the Michigan Whistleblower Protection Act. They are represented by Jennifer Lord with Pitt McGehee in Royal Oak, Mich.
A weekend email to the Macomb County Clerk’s Office asking for comment from Spranger was not returned Monday.