BTG Wins Settlement for Former Ritz Executive Director
The Business Trial Group has secured a settlement for our client Stella Heath in her lawsuit for money owed from her time serving as executive director of the Winter Haven, Florida-based Ritz Theatre. The dispute and subsequent litigation involved both the Ritz Theatre and the Florida Attorney General’s Office.
The Ritz agreed to pay Heath a significant portion of the over $350,000 Heath was owed, following a breach-of-contract lawsuit BTG attorney Benjamin Webster filed on her behalf. She was owed backpay – reimbursement for largely working for free for several years– and for paying the organization’s mortgage and other expenses with her own money, as it struggled to stay afloat.
Heath’s generosity came under unnecessary scrutiny when the Florida Attorney General’s Office launched litigation that sought to forcibly remove the theatre’s board, stop a private sale, and obtain the appointment of a third-party receiver to oversee operations. The AG also took issue with a lien in place that secured Heath’s back pay and reimbursement in the event of a private sale, making specious claims of misconduct and wrongful activity that were not true. Heath resigned amid all of this and retained the contingency-fee services of BTG to file a lawsuit to protect her interests and obtain the money she was owed.
Even though the payment of the money owed to Heath was a private matter between a citizen and her employer, the Florida Attorney General Office’s intervened in a somewhat bizarre use of governmental power. “These issues could have been resolved without the Florida Attorney General office’s involvement,” Webster said. “It’s still difficult to understand why taxpayer money was spent on this.”
Despite the settlement that required Heath to be paid, the AG’s office has proceeded to issue a press release claiming “victory”.
Addressing the substance of the former claims against Heath, “Anything the attorney general’s office or anyone else claimed about potential wrongdoing or a fraudulent lien was completely unfounded — simply not true,” Webster continued. “Stella dedicated years of faithful service to the Ritz, often without being paid, and it’s really quite unfortunate that anyone would make those types of claims given the actual facts.”
Regarding the AG’s recent press release, “The AG’s press release ‘declaring a win’ is befuddling.” Webster said. “They tried to eliminate any chance of Ms. Heath receiving the money she was owed. Fortunately, they were not successful. Ms. Heath won by protecting her interests and securing payment of a significant portion of the money owed to her. The Ritz won by resolving this claim and being able to move forward in a positive fashion.”
Initially, Heath sought more than $350,000, but agreed to accept a sum that she felt was sufficient and that would allow the Ritz to survive and ultimately thrive.
“Stella very much wants to see the Ritz achieve success and serve the community in the future, and always wanted to see the Ritz succeed,” Webster continued. “Her claim was big enough that if she had gone forward it would have caused additional complications for the Ritz and that was not her goal. She was paid a significant portion of what she was owed, and that was acceptable to her given her desire to see the Ritz succeed.”