Two former appointees of Macomb County Clerk Karen Spranger have filed a civil rights and whistle-blower lawsuit against her and the county on claims she fired them for complaining about her work performance.
In a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court’s eastern district, Paul Kardasz, former chief deputy clerk, and Erin Stahl, former deputy register of deeds, are seeking to be reinstated to comparable positions within the county as well as compensatory damages and court costs.
According to the lawsuit, Kardasz and Stahl claim they were terminated after they reported 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.”
As of March 2017, the office was in “full blown crisis mode,” according to the lawsuit.
Both appointees were fired soon after filing complaints against Spranger with the county’s ethics board on March 10, according to the lawsuit. Kardasz was terminated on March 11 and Stahl on March 13.
Both claim Spranger harassed them and the firings violated their First Amendment rights and the Michigan Whistleblower Protection Act.
Spranger could not be reached for comment Friday. She is listed in the lawsuit individually and in her capacity as the Macomb County Clerk. Macomb County is also named as a defendant.
The county’s corporation counsel, John Schapka, said Friday he had not yet seen the lawsuit or made a determination on whether he will represent both the county and Spranger in the matter.
“I obviously have not yet had a chance to review the precise allegations or the specific claims that are pled, but nonetheless defending matters such as this are well within the experience of my office and I look forward to defending the case,” he said.
Spranger was elected in November 2016 and took office on Jan. 3.
Shortly after, Kardasz and Stahl allege Spranger administered the oath of office to two non-employees and gave them “unfettered access” to the clerk’s office, including confidential county records and personnel files.
The lawsuit also contends Spranger allowed one of the non-employees to draft meeting minutes and use her county-issued work computer. As a result the county banned Spranger’s computer use.
Mark Deldin, deputy Macomb County executive, previously told The Detroit News Spranger was told the non-employee use of her computer and password was inappropriate, however “the very next day” it happened again.
Earlier this month, Spranger had sought to use $15,000 from the clerk’s office special projects budget to hire independent counsel to litigate issues such as who the clerk can fire at-will and use of county resources.
The Macomb County Board of Commissioners’ government operations committee voted the request down 12-1.
Spranger’s attorney, Frank Cusumano Jr., has told commissioners that the clerk’s discretion to appoint deputies, “compensated and uncompensated,” was at issue; he argued she has full discretion to do so, and that the non-compensated individuals who were using Spranger’s computer were working on her behalf in her capacity as clerk.