A judge has ruled that the lawsuit filed by two aids of former Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger can move forward. The lawsuit was filed after the employees were dismissed, which they believe was in retaliation for the ethics violations complaints they filed.
Paul Kardasz, ex-chief deputy clerk, and Erin Stahl, ex-deputy register of deeds, were both terminated in March 2017. They claim their dismissals came as a result of their reporting Spranger’s questionable actions of giving two non-employees “unfettered access” to the Macomb County Clerk’s Office. The non-employees were administered the oath of office and had access to confidential county records and personnel files.
Kardasz’s and Stahl’s lawsuit also claims Spranger allowed one of the two non-employees to draft meeting minutes and use a county-issued computer. The county banned Spranger’s computer use following the report.
Harassment and Contentious Work Environment Revealed in Ethics Complaint
The complaint included information about a “contentious work environment” and reported that Spranger harassed employees. The employees believe their terminations were in violation of the Michigan Whistleblower Protection Act and their First Amendment rights.
Spranger claims Kardasz and Stahl are unable to prove any adverse actions had been taken against them or that their terminations were linked to their ethics violations complaints, but a judge disagreed and ordered the case to move forward.
Fear of Job Loss Could Affect Future Ethics Violations Complaints
According to the judge, the terminations of Kardasz and Stahl could deter future employees or people in general from reporting their knowledge of ethics violations or other wrongdoing. The judge stated he believed it would be harmful for public employees to believe they could lose their jobs for reporting potential violations and that he believes Kardasz’s and Stahl’s interest is “greater than the government interest in this case.”
Court records show that Kardasz and Stahl stated that Spranger had told them she would take disciplinary action against them in relation to their ethics complaints, which alone would lead a jury to conclude that their actions were the motivating factors for their terminations.
Spranger Forced from Office and Found Guilty of Theft
Spranger was ousted from office in 2018 when it was revealed in an investigation that she’d falsified her residence when she filed for election. The address she listed on her paperwork had allegedly been vacant since 2015. When the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at the address, the team found entryways barricaded from the inside by wall-to-wall garbage, feces, and animals at a depth of at least four feet.
Spranger was also accused of kicking an employee. Sheriff’s deputies were called to the clerk’s office to investigate the incident that occurred after an employee, claiming to feel harassed by Spranger, went to see her supervisor. As that employee exited the office, Spranger attempted to barge into the room and threw her foot in the door, which led to her kicking the employee.
Spranger was also found guilty of stealing money from an elderly woman’s bank account and is currently in jail on those charges.
If the lawsuit filed by Kardasz and Stahl is successful, they could be entitled to back pay, reinstatement in a position with the county, and/or financial compensation for their losses.