An attorney for a woman suing Orange County and her ex- boss, Supervisor Todd Spitzer, said Wednesday it was “nonsensical” for the elected official to say he fired her because she would not master basic computer skills.
“Christine Richters was a devoted civil servant who was unlawfully terminated by the county as a result of her disability,” attorney Devon Lyon said. “Supervisor Spitzer also recklessly violated multiple wage and hour laws, including docking employees’ pay for their failure to return his text messages within 15 minutes.”
Lyon added, “The county’s excuse that Ms. Richters did not submit to `basic’ computer skills training after three years as an executive aide and assistant with Supervisor Spitzer’s political campaign is nonsensical, untrue and a mere pretext to cover up their unlawful reason.”
The plaintiff’s disability stemmed from “serious symptoms associated with stress on the job, which was documented by her physician,” according to Lyon, who predicted the lawsuit “will not only deliver justice to Ms. Richters, but will expose the abusive and unlawful behavior exhibited by Supervisor Spitzer towards county employees.”
“The county of Orange and Supervisor Spitzer, a man who has aspirations of being the county’s top attorney, must be held liable for their egregious behavior,” the attorney said.
According to a statement Spitzer’s office issued on his behalf Tuesday, Richters “refused” to learn “basic” computer skills needed to do her job.
“Despite being counseled numerous times by the chief of staff and Supervisor Spitzer to learn basic computer skills that would equip her with the necessary skills to do her job, she refused to do so,” according to the statement.
Spitzer accused Richters, 50, of filing the lawsuit “simply to gouge the taxpayers for her unwillingness to adapt and gain even the most fundamental computer skills that would have resulted in either remaining with Supervisor Spitzer or testing favorably for another county job.”
Spitzer also said his office attempted to help Richters find a new job within the county, which contradicts what she claims in her lawsuit filed last Friday.
“Unfortunately, and despite our best efforts to assist Ms. Richters, she was unable to secure a permanent civil service position within the county,” Spitzer’s statement said.
His statement also says that “for 25 years Supervisor Spitzer has worked late nights and weekends on behalf of the taxpayer. Supervisor Spitzer has tremendously high expectations of government employees to perform their job and keep current with their skills. Working as an executive assistant for an elected official is by nature a demanding job.”
Richters, who was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in May 1986, alleges discrimination on the basis of a disability, harassment of a disabled employee, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation, failure to pay for all hours worked and failure to pay overtime wages.
Richters worked as an “executive aide” in Spitzer’s office from Feb. 27, 2013, through Oct. 13, 2016, according to her court papers, which allege that she was “harassed and discriminated against… on the basis of her disability, and retaliated against her for requesting a medical accommodation.”
Richters claims that she was “required daily to be available at all hours, causing her to work up to 24-hour shifts but, when broken down by hour, was not compensated for each hour of work in the amount required by federal law.”
Attached to the lawsuit is a memo purporting to be from Spitzer to his staff declaring that officer hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break. The memo dated July 15 also instructs employees that “text messages from (Spitzer) to staff” must be “responded to within 15 minutes of receipt unless there is an overriding excuse. If either of these policies are violated, an hour of your pay will be docked.”
Richters, who was a “non-exempt employee,” earned $16.50 an hour when she was hired, according to her lawsuit. Her work schedule was 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, but she says she was “required to attend after-hour events, which totaled approximately eight to 10 hours per week for which she was not compensated.”
The lawsuit alleges Spitzer made his employees be “on stand-by 24 hours per day, 7 days per week to respond to any text message sent to them by Spitzer.”
“The work environment in Spitzer’s office was extremely stressful due to the unrealistic demands Spitzer placed upon the employees, as well as Spitzer’s raging temper that he often directed towards the employees,” the lawsuit alleges. “Simply put, even though plaintiff was not directly supervised by Spitzer, it was Spitzer’s regular practice to govern his office through means of fear and aggression.”
— City News Service
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