The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former employee of Supervisor Todd Spitzer who alleged he had a “raging temper” and had employees on 24- hour notice to respond to his requests.
Christine Richters, who was Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in May 1986, alleged 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.
Spitzer, who is running for district attorney, said Richters was fired because she could not learn basic computer skills, a claim Richters’ attorney, Devon Lyon, said was “nonsensical.”
Spitzer’s chief of staff, Melanie Eustice, said the settlement stemmed from a “technical issue surrounding overtime exemptions and at-will employment.” She added that the plaintiff agreed to dismiss “all other spurious allegations against the county and” Spitzer, Eustice said.
Lyon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Eustice claimed Richters wasn’t given the proper paperwork when she was hired to make her an at-will employee exempt from overtime. She said staff for elected officials are “generally required” to work overtime and are not compensated hourly.
Eustice said the settlement was a “business decision” because it was cheaper than going to trial.
Spitzer said in an email message that he was on the “fire line” and was unavailable for comment.
In March, shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Lyon said Spitzer “recklessly violated multiple wage and hour laws, including docking employees’ pay for their failure to return his text messages within 15 minutes.”
Richters’ disability stemmed from stress on the job, her attorney said.
Spitzer said in March that the lawsuit was filed 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.”
Richters worked as an “executive aide” to Spitzer from Feb. 27, 2013, through Oct. 13, 2016, according to her lawsuit.
Richters claimed 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 office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a one-hour lunch break.
The memo 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 said 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 alleged Spitzer made his employees be “on stand-by 24 hours per day, seven 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 alleged.
“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