[Cross-posted from OC Daily.net]
In her wrongful termination lawsuit, Christine Richters, a former aide to Supervisor Todd Spitzer, alleges in her wrongful termination lawsuit that he ran his staff through “fear and aggression” and threatened to dock their pay if they didn’t reply to his texts within 15 minutes.
Richters worked on Spitzer’s 2012 supervisor campaign and was subsequently hired as an executive aide, working in Spitzer’s supervisor office from February 2013 until he fired her in October 2016. Spitzer is widely expected to challenge incumbent District Attorney Tony Rackauckas for re-election in 2018.
Richters alleged wrongful termination and after settlement negotiations failed, she filed a lawsuit on March 24 against the County of Orange and Todd Spitzer personally. Richters’ lawsuit contains eight complaints for damages, variously alleging discrimination and harassment on the basis of disability, failure to prevent such actions and, violation of work and compensation rules.
Richters’ complaint describes a toxic work environment under Spitzer, who is notorious in political circles for the rapid staff turnover: five chiefs-of-staff in the last four years, numerous communications directors, and considerable churn among policy aides.
Richters lawsuit states that Spitzer required his staff to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week – and that implementation of this practice resulted in her being paid well below her legally required wage.
The former staffer also alleges “Spitzer’s temper caused [Richters] to suffer from severe health issues” including “weight loss, hair loss, sleepless nights, stress anxiety, and depression.”
The complaint states:
“The work environment in Spitzer’s office was extremely stressful due to the unrealistic demands Spitzer placed upon employees, and as well Spitzer’s raging temper that he often directed toward the employees.”
“Simply put, even though [Richters] was not directly supervised by Spitzer, it was Spitzer’s regular practice to govern his office through means of fear and aggression.”
Attached to the complaint is a July 15, 2016 memorandum from Spitzer to his staff, mandating “Text messages from TAS [Todd A. Spitzer] to staff will are to be responded to within 15 minutes of receipt unless there is an overriding excuse” and warning that if this rule is violated “an hour of your pay will be docked.”
In the complaint, Richters states the work environment had grown so hostile that in late July 2016 she went to the county’s human resources department seeking a transfer out of Spitzer’s office – citing her doctor’s recommendation that she do so.
Richters alleges Spitzer retaliated by instructing his then-chief of staff George Cardenas not to assist her transfer efforts, and that she was told by the supervisor that “No one leaves Spitzer unless they’re fired.” Cardenas himself left Spitzer’s office later that year to join 4th District Supervisor Shawn Nelson’s staff.
She further alleges she was relegated to menial work tasks and ultimately terminated “before she was offered any opportunities to transfer within the County.”
Richter is seeking unspecified compensation for lost wages, attorney’s fees, incurred, ongoing and future medical expenses, mental anguish and “other incidental and consequential damages.”