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Federal lawsuit filed against St. Joe County, employee of Voter Registration Office

SOUTH BEND, Ind. – A former employee of the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Office has filed a federal lawsuit against the county and a Democratic Member of the Board.

In the federal complaint, Jennifer Hudak claims Arielle Brandy and the county “constructively discharged Hudak in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act” and “for her political beliefs.”

Hudak claims she filed for FMLA leave because of a medical condition. It was approved and she was only supposed to work normal 8-hour shifts, 5 days a week. Shortly after, the complaint alleges, she was told to work 12-hour days. When the county human resources department failed to address the problem, Arielle Brandy, the democratic member of the board, reiterated that Hudak would be required to work the extended hours which essentially forced Hudak to resign in late October, according to court documents.

The complaint goes on to say “Hudak supported Tim Corbett in the Democratic primary election for St. Joseph County Sheriff, a bitterly contested primary that resulted in a recount which Corbett lost.” “Brandy and most of the other employees of the Board supported Corbett’s opponent, Bill Redman.” 

Brandy and the county were unaware of the lawsuit, which was filed on November 15th, until ABC57 News showed Brandy the documents.

“You have to direct all of your questions to the county attorney.” She said.

The county attorney told ABC57 that he would not be commenting on the litigation.

St. Joseph Democratic Chair, Jason Critchlow said the lawsuit is “Silly.”

Hudak’s attorney, Daniel Pfeifer, says he will be available to speak with ABC57 next week. We requested he provide documentation to back up the federal complaint’s claims. He said he would ask his colleagues for direction about that request.

On Sunday, Critchlow sent us the following email response:

Hey Cliff,

I have had the opportunity to thoroughly read the lawsuit filed and am happy to provide the following facts and statements as a follow up for you.

I was shocked to learn of this lawsuit as the claims being made are all in complete contrary to facts or even common sense.

Interview/job description

I have attached the official job description for your reference. During every staff interview, the job description is reviewed and discussed including the portion, that states "Ability to occasionally work extended hours, evenings, and weekends."

This was reviewed with Jennifer in depth and explained that extended hours typically only occur within weeks of an election. She was agreeable with working extended hours during election time and stated that she did not believe it to be an issue.

Dozens of applications were reviewed and multiple interviews were conducted before selecting Jennifer.

Relationship with Tim Corbett

During the hiring process, Jennifer made her close personal relationship with Tim Corbett known. At the time of her hiring in January 2018, the campaigns for each candidate for sheriff were well underway. This fact was never an issue for anyone in the office due to it's irrelevancy. Great effort is made to keep politics out of the office. Jennifer's relationship was known at the time of her hiring and obviously did not preclude her from being hired.

The party remained neutral throughout the race for Sheriff with no endorsements given while providing equal access to resources and support to all three candidates.

If her claim regarding her support of Corbett were true, why would she be hired in the first place? Why would this situation develop when he is the candidate that lost? Why would this occur 6 months after the Primary Election? It simply makes no sense.

Primary Election in May

Jennifer worked extended hours in the weeks leading up to the Primary Election without issue.

Filing of FMLA

At the time that extended hours and weekend work began to be scheduled for the General Election, Jennifer filed for FMLA. The requirements of this original filing stated that she could not work more than 40 hours and 5 days per week. In order to meet the requirements of this FMLA filing, Arielle Brandy worked closely with County Human Resources to create a schedule that include additional days off, no more than 5 days and 40 hours per week, including weekend work.

Upon receiving this schedule, which fit the requirements of her initial FMLA filing, Jennifer went back and amended her filing to include an additional requirement of no more than 8 hours per day. Again, Arielle worked with County Human Resources to create a schedule that fit these amended requirements. The amended schedule gave Jennifer additional days off, no more than 8 hours per day, no more than 40 hours and 5 days per week, including weekend work.

Resignation

Upon receiving the amended schedule, Jennifer left work early and did not come in the next day. She then sent her resignation via email early morning the following day. I have attached it here for your reference.

Unfortunately, suing local governments can be abused and used as a modern day "get rich quick scheme" in an age when settlements are more cost effective than taking cases to trial. This creates a culture of frivolous lawsuits paid for on the tax payers dime.

The facts undeniably reject every claim made in this lawsuit.

Additionally, it is worth noting the local Democratic Party has strongly advocated for reform of the Voter Registration office as has been done in many counties. Most specifically, this reform would merge the office with that of the County Clerk, removing all involvement from the political parties and putting sole oversight with the County Clerk. This proposal was ignored by the Republican County Commissioners who refused to even put it on their agenda for a vote. See attached press releases.

Thanks,

Jason Critchlow

Chairman

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