SANTA ANA, Calif. (CN) – A former Orange County, California, employee hit a county supervisor with a defamation lawsuit Friday, claiming the supervisor’s comments about her to the media have hampered her efforts to find a new job.
Plaintiff Christine Richters worked as an executive assistant in the office of Supervisor Todd Spitzer. According to Richters’ state court lawsuit, Spitzer created a stressful environment, required employees to be on 24-hour standby in order to respond to his text messages, placed unrealistic demands on the employees in the office and subjected them to his raging temper.
After she was fired, Richters sued the county in March 2017 on claims of wrongful termination, retaliation and disability discrimination. She received a $150,000 settlement this past September that included unpaid overtime wages, according to court documents.
Spitzer confirmed the settlement in a statement when it occurred, but the following day told a local news blog Richters had been fired because she could not learn basic computer skills, according to the complaint.
Spitzer, who is running for district attorney, elaborated on Richters’ ouster during an appearance on the PBS show “Inside the OC” this past November. Spitzer said Richters was not doing her job, unwilling to take direction from the county chief of staff and refused to take that computer class.
“So, the recommendation from the chief of staff was she needed to be let go. I met with her, tried to get her to make those improvements, and she wasn’t interested,” Spitzer said, according to the complaint.
Richters says Spitzer continued to repeat the same stories about her in interviews with the media, including an article that ran last month in the OC Weekly where he said Richters was fired because “after working for him for more than two years, she refused to learn how to use computer equipment.”
She says no one ever reprimanded her for not taking the computer class, and notes in the complaint she even received certificates for computer programs in 2014.
Spitzer continued to make comments after the settlement and those have hurt Richters’ job prospects. Last month, Richters says she demanded Spitzer and the county retract the statements made about her in writing.
Richters claims she’s suffered “public humiliation, reputation damage, shame, and emotional distress” due to Spitzer’s statements, and she cannot get a full-time job as a result.
She says Spitzer defamed her to make him appear electable as a DA, and this entitles her to punitive damages.
Orange County is not a party in the current action.
Richters seeks an order barring Spitzer and other county employees from making other false statements, and a finding of tortious interference of prospective economic advantage.
Richters is represented by attorney Lenore Albert of Huntington Beach, California.
In a statement issued Friday, Spitzer said, "This lawsuit is a political stunt by an attorney who is a candidate against me for District Attorney." He was referring to Albert, who will appear at a DA candidate forum alongside Spitzer on March 21.
Representatives for Orange County did not respond to an email seeking comment by press time.
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