SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A federal jury found in favor of a former employee of the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Office, who claimed to have been constructively terminated based on her disability and political beliefs. Now, the county is ordered to pay nearly $100,000 in damages and attorney fees.
Jennifer Hudak, former employee of the St. Joseph County Voter Registration Office, filed a lawsuit against the county and her former boss, Arielle Brandy, in 2018.
In the federal complaint, Hudak claimed Brandy and the county “constructively discharged Hudak in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act” and “for her political beliefs.”
In the filing, Hudak says she filed for FMLA leave because of a medical condition. The leave was approved and the county agreed to have her work 8-hour shifts, 5 days a week. However, after the FMLA approval, Hudak was told to work 12-hour shifts. Hudak’s lawsuit claims the county took no action in fixing the issue. Brandy, the democrat member of the board, then forced Hudak to work the extended hours, leading to Hudak’s resignation for medical reasons.
The complaint also alleges retaliation for political beliefs. However, that portion of the case was thrown out by a federal judge.
“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.” The federal complaint states. “Brandy and most of the other employees of the Board supported Corbett’s opponent, Bill Redman.”
The court has now ordered Brandy and St. Joseph County to pay approximately $7,000 in damages and $90,000 in attorney fees.
RNM has requested the total attorney costs the county spent defending the lawsuit. As of publication, that request has not yet been fulfilled.
This isn’t the first time Brandy has cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. An RNM investigation last year uncovered a massive scheme of ghost employment in the office at the hands of Brandy when she was the democrat chair.
In February of 2021, RNM uncovered timesheets and verified text messages from the former Democrat Board Member of the St. Joseph County Voter Registration office, show concerning discrepancies about her time on the clock at taxpayer expense. St. Joseph County Auditor, Mike Hamann, told REAL News Michiana at the time, that Arielle Brandy should have been fired immediately.
Not only does it appear Brandy did not show up to work on time for a single day, in the nearly 3-month period REAL News Michiana was able to verify, timecards show her to be working at times when she was clearly out of the office. The revelations of potentially falsified documents are raising more concerns considering Brandy oversaw the Voter Registration office, which is responsible for maintaining all of the voter registration rolls within the county.
It turns out, county officials had been aware of the timesheet discrepancies for about a year, prior to RNM’s investigation.
“When I saw these punches, I was like ‘Wow, this is a hot potato.’” County Auditor, Mike Hamann, said.
Hamann tells RNM he received an anonymous set of text messages along with claims that Brandy had been falsifying timesheets about a year ago. He immediately did an audit of every employee in the office.
“There were some discrepancies with a few (employees in the Voter Registration office) here and there. That happens. This individual had much more. I immediately forwarded it to the county attorney.” Hamann said. “He got everything you (RNM) got.”
RNM called County Attorney, Pete Agostino, who confirmed his office did receive the information from the County Auditor’s office about a year ago.
“Allegations were made. There was some investigation, but no findings of any falsifications.” Agostino initially said.
When RNM told Agostino about information received from the Auditor’s office, he deferred to Auditor Mike Hamann as the expert.
“There may be more information that I didn’t have access to.” Agostino said. “(Hamann) would have access to that information.”
“Pete Agostino got everything that was sent to you. It is astounding to me that anyone could look at those timecards and not come to the conclusion that something was amiss.” Hamann said in response. “I don’t have authority over her. Somebody should have fired her. Instead, she gets promoted.”
According to Agostino, the only person with authority to fire Brandy would be the County Democrat Chair, who was Jason Critchlow at the time. While the position is paid for by county tax dollars, Board Members are appointed by the chairperson of the two major parties.
Brandy’s shift was scheduled to be between 8:00am and 4:30pm. From Jan 30th, to March 23rd, 2018, RNM found that Brandy’s earliest clock-in on the digital system was 8:45am. Every other day was 9:00am or later. However, text messages to her colleagues show many times she was not at work at the time documented.
From Jan 30th, to March 23rd, RNM found 16 days of discrepancies between her time sheets and text messages. Some of the discrepancies account for a minimum of a few minutes, others much longer.
The time sheets also depict Brandy working after business hours nearly everyday. RNM is working to find a way to verify that she was actually in the office at those times. According to several sources at the Voter Registration office, verification of those hours would be difficult because she would have been the only person there. RNM has requested the county auditor’s office check to see if they can tell when and how Brandy was clocking out to see if any discrepancies exist on the back end of the workdays.
Multiple text messages refer to the county Democrat Headquarters and the Democrat Chair at the time, Jason Critchlow, with Brandy claiming to be at meetings with Critchlow or at the Democrat HQ. RNM reached out to the St. Joseph County Democrat party for comment, but messages were not returned. Critchlow has also not returned RNM’s messages. Arielle Brandy did not respond to RNM requests for comment to give clarification on the timecard discrepancies either.
RNM asked the county GOP Chair, Zach Potts, if meetings at the GOP headquarters with the Republican Voter Registration Board Member are considered “on the clock.” Potts said it’s usually not the case, but it could be on extremely rare occasions. He added that if he needed to meet with his appointee during business hours, he would go to the Voter Registration office, not have his appointee come to him. Potts said he only needs to meet with his appointee a handful of times per year.
According to Brandy’s LinkedIn account, she worked as the Democrat Board Member of Voter Registration from January 2017, until October 2019. After leaving her job at the Voter Registration office, Brandy worked for Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign as the Indiana State Director and in director level leadership for his campaign in South Carolina, according to her LinkedIn profile. Brandy went on to become the President of Indiana Young Democrats. In August, Brandy was named the National Secretary of the Young Democrats of America.
RNM independently verified the authenticity of the text messages through multiple sources who wished not to be named out of fear of retaliation. All of the text messages and Brandy’s timesheets are listed below for the public to see and compare. Names of personal family members and information from other colleagues in the office have been cut out and redacted. You can see the timesheets and text messages in the original story here.
The Indiana State Police picked up an investigation into the fraud. A special prosecutor in Lake County was picked due to a conflict of interest in the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office. That special prosecutor has a close relationship with Thomas McDermott Jr., former Hammond Mayor and 2022 Senate candidate. In October, McDermott hired Brandy as the director of voter engagement for his campaign.
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