Ex-staffer sues SunShare over salary

A former employee of local solar power development company SunShare recently filed a civil suit against the firm and its owner for allegedly failing to pay him $60,000, according to court documents.

Nicholas Hellbusch, a certified public accountant who worked for SunShare shortly after owner David Amster-Olszewski founded the company in June 2011, claims in the suit that he is also owed compensation for financial, mental and educational hardships he experienced while working for the fledgling utility contractor. The suit was filed on Sept. 6 in the Fourth Judicial District that includes El Paso and Teller counties.

The suit was filed just four days prior to the mandatory pre-proposal conference for bidders intending to compete for a Colorado Springs Utilities contract to double the scope of its community solar garden project from 2 megawatts to 4 megawatts.

According to the documents, the story began when the two met in June 2009 while hiking Barr Trail to Pikes Peak. Amster-Olszewski was working to launch his renewable resource firm and Hellbusch was looking for work, the suit says.

Hellbusch, who now works in the City Auditor’s Office, contends that on June 2011, he and Amster-Olszewski “entered into an agreement … [Hellbusch] would perform work for Sunshare and in exchange, [he] would be financially compensated for his work.”

Hellbusch claims that he was hired by Amster-Olszewski at the annual rate of $60,000 to conduct a feasibility study, create the company’s financial model, research tax information for clients and serve as SunShare’s accountant. Hellbusch also claims that he was to receive 15 to 30 percent commission on the company’s first project: a Colorado Springs Utilities contract to install, operate and maintain a 500-kilowatt community solar garden at Venetucci Farm.

The plaintiff also states in the case file that his computer was seized and his personal files were destroyed by a SunShare intern, also named in the suit, at Amster-Olszewski’s request. When Hellbusch confronted his former co-workers to retrieve his computer and ask for his due compensation, the owner called police to the SunShare offices at 218 E. Cache La Poudre St., according to the lawsuit. The document states that Amster-Olszewski then told Hellbusch that he would pay him the remaining salary.

Hellbusch contends that he was paid, but only a total of $3,787 over a period of about five months, according to court documents. Hellbusch says he worked six months and completed all the work outlined in the original contract. “In July and August of 2011, Amster-Olszewski did partially perform his part of the agreement and paid [Hellbusch $500] and [$750] as advances on the sale, and on the project,” according to the suit. “In September, October and December of 2011 [Hellbusch] received three checks each in the amount of $750 and one check in the amount of $287.37 as compensation for his work and reimbursement for expenses.”

The case file says that the first two checks that the plaintiff received were temporary checks and that the last four were personal checks from the Wells Fargo account of Amster-Olszewski.

Whether pending litigation of this nature would affect a bidder’s eligibility was not addressed in the qualification requirements listed in Colorado Springs Utilities’ request-for-proposal.

“There is no RFP mention of a lawsuit precluding a vendor from being awarded the contract,” said Utilities spokesman Dave Grossman. “Minimum qualifications (including financial) are included in sections 9 and 10 in the Statement of Work.”