Florida Keys

Inside exclusive Ocean Reef community, charges of sex and ‘control’ against top manager

The man who runs the day-to-day operations of the exclusive Ocean Reef community in the Upper Florida Keys is embroiled in a sexual harassment lawsuit in which a former employee accuses him of maintaining a website with photos and videos of her in sex acts with him that he used as leverage against her.

David Ritz, president of the Ocean Reef Community Association, or ORCA, used the website as a tool to “control and manipulate” the woman, enabling him to “continue his exploitation” of her, according to the complaint, filed Feb. 9 in Monroe County Circuit Court. The sexual harassment lasted from 2007 until November 2017, the woman’s attorneys write in the complaint.

Ritz, who also serves on several boards of directors throughout the Keys, has been placed on administrative leave with pay. He responded Thursday morning through his attorney Bruce Johnson, calling the allegations “baseless” and “outrageous.”

“There is no truth whatsoever to these allegations. We are denying them vehemently. They are just not true,” Johnson said.

He also said ORCA launched its own investigation into the claims in the lawsuit last year “and found no evidence whatsoever to support any of these allegations.”

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David Ritz FKEC photo Florida Keys Electric Cooperative

The woman is referred to as “Jane Doe” in the suit, which is also against the Ocean Reef Community Association, as well as ORCAT Inc., a nonprofit cat trap-and-neuter program where she worked until she resigned in 2018.

Ritz was hired as president and administrator of the Ocean Reef Community Association in 1992.

Ocean Reef is a self-contained community in North Key Largo. It has its own stores, restaurants, beaches, golf course, fire department and airport. It’s one of the most high-security private communities in the country, where celebrities and dignitaries stay when they’re in the Keys.

While president, Barack Obama spent a weekend there with his family playing golf in 2014. Joe Biden, his vice president, stayed there the year before.

Ritz’s job is the equivalent of a county or city manager, where his professional background lies.

Ritz served as city manager of Oakland Park and other cities before coming to Ocean Reef. He serves on the board of the Florida Keys Electric Cooperative, a utility providing power from the Upper to Lower Keys. He is also the secretary-treasurer of the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority, which has a pump station named in his honor.

The complaint states he and the woman began a romantic relationship before she started working at ORCAT. The complaint does not say what that year was, but it was more than a decade ago. The woman’s attorneys write that Ritz became abusive and began forcing her to perform sexual acts, which he photographed and videotaped. They eventually broke up, and the woman told him to destroy the videos and photos, according to the complaint.

But in January 2007, Ritz told her that not only did he not destroy them, he digitized them and displayed them on a website he maintained, the plaintiff’s attorneys wrote in the complaint. With this hanging over her head, Ritz “demanded” the woman have sex with him both at his house and hers over the next 10 years, according to the complaint.

Throughout this time, according to the woman’s attorneys, Ritz would often say to her, “Remember, I am ORCA,” when he hand delivered her paycheck.

During working hours throughout the woman’s employment at Ocean Reef, she alleges Ritz made unwelcome sexual advances toward her, “pressing his body against hers while grabbing her buttocks, referring loudly to the Plaintiff as “Baby” and remarking that she ‘had a nice ass,’ forcibly kissing Plaintiff and shoving his tongue down her mouth” and grinding against her, the complaint states.

“This occurred unabated and at least monthly throughout Plaintiff’s employment at ORCA through November of 2017,” her attorney Ronald P. Weil wrote in the complaint.

The woman “reasonably believed that disclosure of Defendant Ritz’ conduct would result in the loss of her employment and the disclosure of the photos and videos Defendant Ritz had taken of the Plaintiff,” Weil wrote.

She also believed that filing an internal complaint against Ritz “would be futile, as the ORCA entities were controlled by Defendant Ritz and had long participated in and/or ratified misogyny directed toward its female workforce,” the complaint states.

Marshall Wishnack, chairman of ORCA’s board of directors, said in a statement that the organization “intends to vigorously defend against the allegations in the lawsuit.”

“ORCA cannot comment further since there is now ongoing litigation. However, ORCA takes the allegations very seriously and will respond appropriately to the allegations in court documents. ORCA is committed to the respectful treatment of its employees and has a ‘No Harassment’ policy, which prohibits unlawful harassment and discrimination.”

In the beginning of 2018, Ocean Reef launched an investigation in response to other complaints of harassment and gender bias, according to the complaint. Doe was questioned by the lawyer appointed by Ocean Reef and she told the investigator about what she said she endured by Ritz.

But the woman’s lawyers state the investigation was used as a “pretext to intimidate and silence Plaintiff and other victims” of Ritz’s “unlawful conduct.”

In August 2018, Ocean Reef Community Association held mandatory training for its employees about sexual harassment in the workplace. Ritz supervised the training and “provided introductory remarks to the employees,” the lawsuit states.

The woman resigned a month later, and the complaint states the move was “the direct and proximate result of a hostile work environment that the ORCA Entities and Defendant Ritz had perpetrated, which continued unabated.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Ocean Reef Club and the gated community of Ocean Reef as one and the same. A former employee filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against the Ocean Reef Community Association and its president. Ocean Reef Club, which is a separate entity physically located within the Ocean Reef community, is not involved in the lawsuit.

David Goodhue covers the Florida Keys and South Florida for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald. Before joining the Herald, he covered Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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