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Update: 'I regret how I acted seven years ago': David Niezgodski paid former employee to drop sexual harassment claims

David Niezgodski, center, stands as Democratic officials unveil a street sign during Dyngus Day festivities in South Bend on April 1, 2024. Niezgodski allegedly sent dozens of texts to a former female employee and paid her $8,000 for her to drop her claims of sexual harassment.

State senator David Niezgodski allegedly paid a former employee $8,000 to settle claims of sexual harassment after he texted her dozens of times and entered her house uninvited.

The alleged incidents happened in 2017 according to documents obtained by WVPE and first published by the IndyStar. The woman, who was 33 at the time, worked as an office assistant at Niezgodski's private plumbing business.

She documented Niezgodski’s alleged sexual harassment in a complaint she filed with the Indiana Civil Right Commission in 2017.

The complaint reads in part "Mr. Niezgodski showed up to my home to give my son an Easter basket and made inappropriate comments about how I looked in my jeans. He also left voicemails on my phone stating that he thinks about me every minute and he 'loves me.'”

When the woman told Niezgodski she was quitting, he “persistently” texted her trying to get her to meet up or call him. A few days after she quit, the woman claims Niezgodski showed up at her house unannounced and walked in. The woman was with a neighbor when this happened, the IndyStar reported, but her father confronted Niezgodski and he left without incident.

In a voicemail included in the complaint, a person who sounds like Niezgodski tells the woman he loves her.

“I love you. I love you in all the right ways. And I’ve done things in all the right ways," the message says.

That voicemail and texts were sent to the Indiana Civil Rights Commission as part of the woman’s complaint. WVPE obtained a copy of the complaint from a source who received it through a public records request. WVPE submitted a separate records request in January to confirm the materials with the Civil Rights Commission. That request has not been filled as of Thursday.

The woman eventually reached a settlement with Niezgodski and dropped her complaint with the Civil Rights Commission in exchange for $8,000, per documents reviewed by WVPE and published by the IndyStar.

Niezgodski — who is running in a primary against St. Joseph County Treasurer Tim Swager — did not respond to multiple messages seeking comment on Thursday.

On Friday, Niezgodski's office sent a written statement to WVPE in which the senator says he will continue seeking reelection.

"Seven years ago, my wife and I were trying to keep a valued employee with whom we had a personal friendship at our family business and I should have handled matters in a better way," the statement reads in part. "In retrospect, I regret how I acted seven years ago and take full responsibility for causing any pain or discomfort. This private, personnel matter was address mutually and confidentially by both both parties. I have no intention of violating this and I'm going to honor, respect and abide by that."

Harassment allegations

The allegations against Niezgodski come as he is running for his third term in the state senate and raise questions about whether and when party officials knew about the alleged misconduct.

The complaint is dated 2017, but the IndyStar reports the woman’s father alerted St. Joseph County Democratic Party leaders about the alleged harassment in 2019.

Stan Wruble, who was the party chair at the time, said he received an email from the woman’s father and discussed with other officers what to do. Wruble said he privately told Niezgodski he should resign, but the local party said nothing publicly and passed all the texts and emails to the statewide Democratic Party.

Wruble said he first knew of the allegations in 2017 since his law firm represented the woman when she made her formal complaint.

Former Democratic party chair Jason Critchlow and current chair Diana Hess both said they were aware of rumors Niezgodski may have had an affair, but they were unaware of the sexual harassment complaint and $8,000 settlement until Thursday.

Wruble added that political parties have little control over who appears on the ballot and the most serious action a county party could take would be publicly calling for a candidate to resign, given that candidates for statewide office don’t usually rely on local funding.

“The state democratic senate caucus could have censured him … they could have taken some action,” Wruble said. “Whereas we as a county party really had no power whatsoever.”

When asked if she will call on Niezgodski to resign, Hess said she would speak with other party leaders on Thursday before making a decision.

Hess said she’ll keep in mind how domestic violence issues surrounding two South Bend Republican candidates dragged down their campaigns in last year’s general election.

“We have a lot of candidates running on our ballot and I’m worried about any impact, potential consequences they might suffer from this news,” Hess said.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.