SANTA ANA (CBSLA) — Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer broke his silence Tuesday on a wrongful termination lawsuit Friday by an ex-staffer, who is also a former Playboy Playmate.
According to a statement issued by Spitzer’s office, his former employee, Christine 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,” the statement said.
Spitzer also claimed that his office tried to help Richters find a new job within the county, which contradicts what she claimed 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 said.
“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,” the statement continued.
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.”
The plaintiff, 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.
Richters worked as an executive aide in Spitzer’s office from Feb. 27, 2013, through Oct. 13, 2016, according to her court papers.
She claimed he ran his office with “fear and aggression” and kept employees on call around the clock.
Richters, who is seeking unspecified damages, alleged that she was “harassed and discriminated against… on the basis of her disability, and retaliated against her for requesting a medical accommodation.”
The plaintiff’s disability allegedly stemmed from “serious symptoms associated with stress on the job, which was documented by her physician,” said Richters’ attorney, Devon Lyon.
Richters claimed 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 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, 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,” according to the lawsuit. “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.”
Richters argued the work environment caused “severe health issues” that included weight loss, hair loss, sleepless nights, stress, anxiety and depression.”
She “consulted with a health care professional and was placed on several different medications to try to alleviate her symptoms,” according to her court papers, which said she was “placed off work for various periods of time” last year.
Richters said last July she produced a doctor’s note to her supervisor, then-chief of staff George Cardenas, saying she was off work due to “an acute medical issue, which was caused by the daily hostility she endured and was exposed to in Spitzer’s office.”
On the advice of her doctor, Richters sought a transfer out of Spitzer’s office. But her supervisor was told not to help her and that she was “on her own,” the lawsuit alleged.
“Spitzer also told (Richters), `No one leaves Spitzer unless they’re fired,’ and as a result Spitzer became more hostile and aggressive” toward Richters, the lawsuit said.
Richters claimed she was “relieved of several of her regular job duties and relegated to only preparing certificates of recognition all day long, an extremely tedious task.” She was eventually told by her supervisor that “Mr. Spitzer wants you out of here,” and she was fired Oct. 13 of last year, according to her lawsuit.
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