July 17, 2019

NORTH KEY LARGO — A former vice president and chief financial officer of Ocean Reef Community Association is suing the company and former manager David Ritz, alleging retaliation for her efforts to end what she describes as a “pervasively misogynistic and hostile work environment” created by Ritz and current public safety vice president Tim James.

Elizabeth Marquardt, who was employed at Ocean Reef from 2016 to 2018, said she had to endure frequent lewd and inappropriate comments, according to her attorneys, Marguerite Snyder and Robert Weil.

Marquardt says she felt compelled to resign following her attempt to squelch what she claims was illicit conduct toward female employees who were subjected to workplace harassment, according to the complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Office.

She also alleges that ORCA doesn’t compensate women equally and that Ritz withheld the discretionary hurricane relief pay from her.

Marquardt says she met with Ritz and the vice president of human resources about two other women working for James who she says were sexually harassed.

Following that meeting, Marquardt claims Ritz retaliated against her by suggesting that the company didn’t need a chief financial officer, as it previously didn’t have one.

Ritz’s attorney, Chris Stearns, called the allegations “baseless and fraudulent.”

An effort by the Free Press to reach James for comment was unsuccessful.

Marquardt’s complaint has court-ordered mediation set for December in Miami.

This is the second lawsuit in recent months alleging workplace misconduct involving ORCA and Ritz.

A woman, listed as Jane Doe in a lawsuit filed earlier this year, alleges she was in a romantic relationship with Ritz prior to 2007, and after that relationship ended, Ritz, as her employer at Ocean Reef, sexually harassed her and demanded sex through November 2017.

Her attorney, also Ronald Weil, alleges that Ritz and the woman’s relationship became abusive when Ritz, over Jane Doe’s objection, directed her to perform certain sexual acts which he would then photograph or video, according to court paperwork.

When the relationship ended, the woman demanded Ritz destroy the photos and video. Instead, he followed through on a threat to distribute them by putting some on the Internet, the lawsuit states.

That investigation led to sexual harassment training, which was conducted by Ritz himself, Weil said. The woman felt the company did not properly address ongoing sexual harassment and workers’ claims and she quit in September 2018, her attorney said.

Ritz’s attorney on that case, Bruce Johnson, called the lawsuit and the allegations “outrageous.” Johnson argued the Ocean Reef Community Association’s investigation into sexual harassment complaints were properly vetted by an outside attorney and shown to be unfounded.

“There is not a shred of evidence or basis to the allegations,” Johnson previously stated.

One other court case remains pending. In that case, a woman alleges she was discriminated against in the terms and conditions of her employment and denied opportunities because of her race and color.

Ritz has since left ORCA but remains active as a board member of the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative and the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, and is now a business and governmental consultant.

tjava@keysnews.com