Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer fired back Tuesday against a lawsuit in which a former aide claims Spitzer ran his office through “fear and aggression” and violated minimum wage and overtime laws.
In a news release, Spitzer called the allegations by Christine Richters “false,” “disheartening, misleading, and simply untrue.”
“The County has decided to fight Ms. Richters’ claim and unwarranted attempt to smear the County, Supervisor Todd Spitzer and members of his staff,” according to his news release.
Spitzer said he fired Richters because she refused to learn basic computer skills that were necessary for her job.
“Ms. Richters filed a lawsuit against the County 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 wrote.
It was Spitzer’s first public comment on the lawsuit, which was filed Friday.
In response, one of Richters’ attorneys, Devon M. Lyon, said in an email: “Christine Richters was a devoted civil servant who was unlawfully terminated by the County as a result of her disability. Supervisor Spitzer also recklessly violated multiple wage and hour laws including, docking employee pay for their failure to return his text messages within 15 minutes.
“The County’s excuse that Ms. Richters did not submit to ‘basic’ computer skills training after 3 years as an Executive Aide and assistance with Supervisor Spitzer’s political campaign is nonsensical, untrue and a mere pretext to cover up their unlawful reason.”
Richters worked for Spitzer for three and a half years as an executive aide, from February 2013 until this past October. Before that, she was a law client of Spitzer’s and then a paid staffer on his 2012 campaign for supervisor.
In her lawsuit, Richters alleged Spitzer has a “raging temper,” ran his office through “fear and aggression,” forced his staff to be on-call at all hours of the night, and required them to work shifts of up to 24 hours at a time.
She included what she described as a memo Spitzer sent his staff saying his text messages “are to be responded to within 15 minutes of receipt unless there is an overriding excuse,” or else “an hour of your pay will be docked.”
In his statement, Spitzer said he works hard for his constituents and expects his staff to do so as well.
“For twenty-five years Supervisor Spitzer has worked late nights and weekends on behalf of the taxpayer,” his news release said.
“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.”
At the core of Richters’ case is her claim that Spitzer and the county illegally discriminated against her and fired her based on a disability caused by the stress and anxiety he created.
Spitzer disputed that narrative, saying Richters was let go because she refused to learn basic computer skills.
“It is documented that in order for Ms. Richters to perform her job responsibilities, it was necessary for her to be current with her job skills. Spitzer’s office offered Richters the opportunity to stay as an employee as long as she learned basic computer skills to which she refused,” Spitzer wrote.
“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.
“When Richters informed the Supervisor’s office that she wanted to seek a different job in the County, Supervisor Spitzer’s office aided her in that pursuit. It is also documented that Supervisor Spitzer was completely aware and supportive of her effort to seek other job opportunities, despite her false accusations.”
“Unfortunately, and despite our best efforts to assist Ms. Richters, she was unable to secure a permanent civil service position with the County,” Spitzer wrote.
Richters also claimed the county failed to pay her and other county employees the federal minimum wage and violated federal requirements that overtime be compensated at time-and-a-half.
Spitzer didn’t address those allegations in his statement.
Richters, meanwhile, alleges in her suit that she sought a transfer to another county job, and was helped with that by the human resources department. But, she said, Spitzer directed his chief of staff not to help her with the transfer, and told Richter “No one leaves Spitzer unless they’re fired.”
Richters said she wasn’t hired for another county position, and Spitzer fired her in October.
“This litigation will not only deliver justice to Ms. Richters but will expose the abusive and unlawful behavior exhibited by Supervisor Spitzer towards County employees,” wrote Lyon, her attorney.
“The County of Orange and Supervisor Spitzer, a man who has aspirations of being the County’s top (prosecutor), must be held liable for their egregious behavior.”
Spitzer is widely believed to be planning to run for district attorney in next year’s election.
He has had a high staff turnover, including five chiefs of staff in the last five years, more than any other supervisor. His most recent chief of staff to leave, Irvine City Councilman Jeff Lalloway, resigned just four months after he took the job.
Richters’ case, No. 30-2017-00910955-CU-WT-CJC, has been assigned to Superior Court Judge Linda S. Marks. The county hasn’t formally replied to the lawsuit in court, and no hearing dates have been scheduled yet.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at [email protected].