Politics

Former campaign staffer sues Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brenda Siegel for unpaid wages, expenses

Brenda Siegel speaks after conceding her race against Gov. Phil Scott during a Vermont Democratic Party gathering in Burlington on Nov. 8. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

A former campaign staffer is taking this year’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Brenda Siegel to court for what he alleges are hundreds of dollars in unpaid wages and reimbursements.

Bryan Parks, a 33-year-old from Middlebury, worked for Siegel’s campaign for a few weeks in September and October. In a small claims suit filed in Windham County Superior Court on Monday, he alleged that the campaign owes him $600 in unpaid wages and reimbursement expenses.

Parks told VTDigger in an interview on Tuesday that “it's a minimal amount” of money to sue over, but he’s pursuing litigation because he thinks voters should be made aware of the disagreement, should Siegel — who lost to Republican Gov. Phil Scott in November — decide to run for office again. 

He also said that his alleged pay discrepancy contradicts Siegel’s campaign platform, which largely focused on a message of affordability and taking care of vulnerable Vermonters.

"This is not the way I wanted it to go at all,” Parks said. “I was really about the Brenda agenda, as it's been labeled, and I think that's a good vision for Vermont. But I'm pretty disturbed by the fact that she's a champion for all these things and helping people but then she can't pay her campaign staff."

Parks said he waited until after the November general election to file his complaint so as not to appear politically motivated. He’s representing himself in the lawsuit. 

In a phone interview on Tuesday, Siegel denied Parks’ claim that he was shorted, saying repeatedly, “No, I don't owe him any money. He is completely paid up.” She said a check for $283 reimbursing Parks for gas and other expenses was mailed to him on Sunday. 

She also said she didn’t see his lawsuit coming. VTDigger’s Tuesday afternoon inquiry was the first she heard of Parks’ lawsuit, filed on Monday.

"I don't know what the concern is or why escalate to a level like this without any kind of communication,” Siegel said Tuesday.

Communications between Parks and the Siegel campaign disputing his pay date back to October. In an Oct. 20 email to Siegel’s campaign manager Paige Diana Schoppmann, Parks said he would file a lawsuit in small claims court if he were not paid “the full amount that I’m owed” by Oct. 22.

“If for some reason we can not reach a solution by the above date, I will announce my lawsuit publicly in addition to pursuing legal action,” Parks wrote at the time.

On Oct. 22, Schoppmann told Parks via email that she spoke with Siegel directly, and said Siegel was “happy” to pay Parks $250 for one week of work on the campaign’s “advance” team, which organizes campaign events. Parks told Schoppmann via email that the $250 “finally” hit his account on Nov. 3.

“I don't know if he is not keeping track of his bank records, but the wages are completely paid and we have that on record,” Siegel said Tuesday. “And the reimbursement was, as often happens with any campaign — that's wrapping up and was mailed out.”

Siegel sent VTDigger a photo of the reimbursement check dated on Sunday and made out to Parks for $283.40. As of Tuesday, Parks said he has not yet received the check in the mail. 

He told VTDigger that he still has not been made whole for the week of Oct. 2, when he was working as the campaign’s volunteer coordinator. He estimated he is owed roughly $300 for that week. 

According to the Siegel campaign’s most recent financial disclosures filed with the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office on Tuesday — two weeks after the report was due — her campaign raised nearly $188,000 this election cycle and spent nearly $168,000, leaving about $20,000 in the bank.

Parks first began work as the campaign’s volunteer coordinator in mid-September, but grew frustrated with the job and what he described as Siegel’s “micromanaging.” He also said the campaign was haphazard and disorganized, and he was made to feel at fault when campaign events failed to attract substantial turnout or volunteer efforts dwindled — even though Siegel’s competitor, incumbent Gov. Phil Scott, was heavily favored from the start.

Parks said he submitted his two-weeks notice to the campaign on Oct. 3. Both Parks and Siegel recounted to VTDigger that the campaign then offered Parks a position on the campaign’s “advance” team.

Parks said that he was offered the position via phone, not in writing, and was told it would pay $1,000 per month. Schoppmann wrote in her Oct. 22 email “that amount was never agreed upon.”

It was after his Oct. 14 payday that Parks said he decided to stop working with the campaign. He said he stopped corresponding with the campaign, other than his string of emails disputing his pay.

Asked if she believed Parks’ lawsuit is fair, Siegel replied, “No.”

“I mean, it's not — I don't know if I would use ‘not fair,’” she added. “It's not accurate. It's not accurate. His wages have been entirely paid.”

In a follow-up written statement sent Tuesday evening, after she saw Parks’ lawsuit, Siegel said, “As a candidate and employer, the fair payment and well being of my campaign staff has always been paramount.”

“Every single member of this campaign staff has been paid in full as expected to date for the important work we did together ahead of November’s election, and all of them had written agreements outlining their pay,” she continued. “I am strongly committed to honoring the agreements I make and being true to my word as a candidate and public figure, and working with my campaign staff is no exception.”

The position of governor is often equated to the role as CEO of state government, responsible for employing hundreds of state employees. Asked on Tuesday how he feels his pay dispute reflects Siegel’s ability to perform as governor, he said, "I know she wouldn't be able to."

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Sarah Mearhoff

About Sarah

Sarah Mearhoff is one of VTDigger's political reporters, covering the Vermont statehouse, executive branch and congressional delegation. Prior to joining Digger, she covered Minnesota and South Dakota state politics for Forum Communications' newspapers across the Upper Midwest for three years. She has also covered politics in Mississippi, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, she is a proud alumna of the Pennsylvania State University where she studied journalism.

Email: smearhoff@vtdigger.org

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