Orange County taxpayers will pay $150,000 to settle claims Supervisor Todd Spitzer violated federal labor laws and forced his staff to be on-call at all hours of the night, including working shifts of up to 24 hours at a time.
Christine Richters, who worked for Spitzer at his county office for three and a half years, filed a lawsuit against the county in March alleging Spitzer had a “raging temper” toward his staff and required them “to be on stand-by 24 hours per day, 7 days per week to respond to any text message” he sent them.
As evidence, she included a memo from Spitzer to his staff saying his text messages “are to be responded to within 15 minutes of receipt unless there is an overriding excuse.”
If this policy is violated, Spitzer warned, “an hour of your pay will be docked.”
Spitzer disputed Richters’ claims, calling them “false,” “disheartening, misleading, and simply untrue.” He didn’t deny sending the text message memo, but said he works hard for his constituents and expects his staff to do so as well.
Six months after Richters filed suit, Spitzer and his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a settlement with her for $150,000.
When county officials, such as supervisors, lose or settle lawsuits against them over their official actions, the bills are paid by taxpayers.
The settlement agreement says it resolves claims Spitzer and the county violated the Federal Labor Standards Act, which sets requirements for minimum wage and overtime at all levels of government and the private sector.
Richters claimed the county failed to pay her and other county employees the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, and violated federal requirements that overtime be compensated at time-and-a-half.
Spitzer’s office issued a statement late Tuesday describing the settlement as stemming from “a technical issue surrounding overtime exemptions and at-will employment.”
“Adequate guidelines, including an exemption agreement, was not provided to Ms. Richters or [Spitzer’s then] Chief of Staff during her employment and therefore the County resolved to settle her claim for additional compensation for unreported hours,” said Spitzer’s statement.
“Ms. Richters has agreed to dismiss all other spurious allegations against the County and Supervisor Todd Spitzer.”
Richters’ attorney, Devon Lyon, said she and her client are “happy that it’s been resolved. And we’re looking forward to moving forward.”
Spitzer, who is running for district attorney in the June 2018 election, has had a high staff turnover.
He has had five chiefs of staff in the last five and a half 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.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.