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Top-rated workplace in St. Pete sued by top-level employee

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A St. Petersburg accounting firm is being sued by one of its employees for allegedly rigging the company’s pay system to cut his salary.

According to a suit filed by Richard Caton against his employer, Gregory Sharer & Stuary, P.A. he was the only partner at the firm to suffer a pay cut in 2015. Prior to this year Caton says he earned $200,000 a year. That was slashed to $150,000 despite Caton’s claim that he is the firm’s top income producer.

According to the suit, a team was formed in 2013 consisting of four other employees – James Newman, Tim Farrell, Paula Popovich and Carlos Villa. That group’s task was to make recommendations on how to best distribure the firm’s discretionary profits.

Caton described the group’s meetings as “unscheduled” and “secret.” Following those meetings Caton was given a reduced bonus and his salary was slashed. The cuts were allegedly contradictory to Caton’s employment contract with the firm where he has worked for more than 20 years.

Caton’s lawsuit may come as a surprise to some. The small business has been named a top workplace by the Tampa Bay Times every year since 2010 based on feedback from its 52 employees.

Caton says he believes the change in pay structure was intentionally orchestrated to negatively affect his salary. He believes his colleagues were trying to push him into quitting.

If that was the goal, his co-workers got what they wanted. Caton turned in his resignation on April 28, making his last day of work July 27.

He also argues the company has “frozen” him out of management, though it’s not entirely clear what that means. He also claims he was offered insufficient payment for the stock he holds in the company.

Caton is seeking damages for lost compensation plus interest and attorney’s fees. He’s also seeking to have his non-compete and non-solicitation agreements waived.

The lawsuit alleges Caton is “highly likely to succeed on the merits of this action.”

Based on a search of Caton’s name in a database of Florida corporations, Caton does not appear to have formed a new company.

Caton is the past president of the Suncoast Chapter of the Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Caton is represented by Shirin Vesely of the law firm Keane Reese Vesely & Gerdes. That’s the same law firm that employs St. Pete City Council Chair Charlie Gerdes.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email [email protected]

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