LITTLE HAVANA

Claiming discrimination, ex-workers sue famed Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana

 
 
Versailles Restaurant, 3555 SW 8th Street.
Versailles Restaurant, 3555 SW 8th Street.
MARICE COHN BAND / MIAMI HERALD FILE

bmedina@elnuevoherald.com

Two former employees of the famed Versailles restaurant sued the eatery and its owners after they said they were fired for complaining about what they described as illegal work practices, including discrimination over sexual orientation.

Rigoberto Hernández and Adriam Mena, who lost their jobs in December, said they were victims of retaliation after reporting that the restaurant had hired undocumented immigrants.

They also said other employees were being harassed over their sexual orientation and that there were irregularities in the restaurant’s salary reports.

Owners of the restaurant, the Valls family, deny the allegations.

The lawsuit already has impacted the business.

On Wednesday, the Miami-Dade Democratic Party announced it was moving an event planned for Saturday to another restaurant.

According to the lawsuit, Felipe Valls and Felipe Valls, Jr. had made fun of Hernández, the manager of the restaurant, and of Mena, a waiter.

“Our clients have suffered emotional harm by the way they were treated,” said lawyer Roderick Hannah, who represents Mena and Hernández.

The owners “looked for false excuses to terminate them.”

In the lawsuit, Hernández and Mena allege that Valls Jr. ridiculed Mena, calling his walk “effeminate.”

Mena, who worked at Versailles for five years, apologized to Valls Jr. for his way of walking and assured him that it would not happen again, according to the document.

In a statement released by the restaurant’s lawyer Reynaldo Velázquez, the owners denied the allegations.

“Versailles Restaurant, Felipe Valls Sr. and its owners deny all allegations of illegal action made by two former employees who were fired for bad behavior,” Velázquez said. “Versailles and its owners are ready to vigorously defend themselves from accusations in this case presented to the media today.”

Velázquez said the restaurant and its owners will address “all allegations in the appropriate forum: a court of justice, as opposed to litigate them in the media.”

According to the suit, Hernández and Mena said the restaurant accused them of canceling customers’ bills as an excuse for firing them.

However, according to the document, it was common practice to offer discounts or free service to prominent people in the community, including Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, members of Congress Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Díaz Balart and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The plaintiffs also included in the suit a list of undocumented immigrants they say are employed by Versailles.

Hernández said that when he informed restaurant officials about the situation, Jeannette Valls in Human Resources responded that if immigration authorities were to investigate she could make the undocumented employees “disappear.”

Hernández, who the lawsuit described as gay, worked at Versailles from August 2012 to December 2013.

He complained that restaurant managers manipulated a computer register to report more tips than the employees received to “apparently avoid the state and federal minimum wage rules.”

“That way they made believe that they were paying the minimum wage or even more to their employees when the truth is that they paid even less,” said Pelayo Durán, who also represents the plaintiffs.

A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed a quote by attorney Roderick Hannah.

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