Former assistant manager sues Versailles, La Carreta over mistreatment

Claudio Calderin claims he was mistreated after filing internal complaints

MIAMI – A former assistant manager at Versailles in Miami and the Bird Road La Carreta has filed a lawsuit against the restaurants and its owners over what he claims was a hostile work environment.

The lawsuit claims that the restaurants' owners and managers retaliated against Claudio Calderin after he reported unsafe and unsanitary conditions and other "illegal conduct" at the popular Cuban restaurants.

According to the suit, Calderin first complained about unsanitary conditions at Versailles in 2013. He claimed the filth was mostly in the kitchen and food preparation areas, stating that cockroaches were found in desserts, human hair in the food, wire brush hairs in the rice and broken glass in the croquettes.

VIEW: Versailles inspection report

Calderin took photos of the conditions and presented it to managers who took no action, the lawsuit said.

Shortly after Calderin began making complaints, inspectors with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations found 52 safety violations at Versailles.  

A publicist hired by the companies told Local 10 News that neither restaurant had ever experienced serious health or safety concerns.

"In the 44 years that members of the Valls family have been in the restaurant business, none of the over 40 restaurants owned and operated have been implicated in any critical health issues, much less shut down, even for one day by any health department," Sonia Diaz said.

Besides health and safety issues, Calderin claims he and a former Versailles general manager were told by the Valls' family patriarch, Felipe Valls Sr., to demote, reduce work hours and change work schedules for certain employees in order to make their working conditions so intolerable that they would quit.

According to the lawsuit, the former manager, Rigoberto Hernandez, refused Valls' orders, but Calderin carried out the actions against other employees out of fear for losing his job.

Calderin claims Hernandez was later fired after lodging internal complaints under the guise that it was for discounting customer checks and having a sexual relationship with another male employee, Adriam Mena.

Mena, who Calerin said also lodged internal complaints, was also fired, the lawsuit said.

Calderin was later transferred to La Carreta on Bird Road where he claims in the lawsuit that he was again subject to workplace hostility after bringing up complaints about "improper practices and unsafe and unsanitary food preparation conditions, which Calderin supported with photographs."

VIEW: La Carreta inspection

The lawsuit states that Calderin was retaliated against by "excessive scrutiny of his work, false accusations of theft, undermining his authority and work-related decisions and setting him up in numerous ways to fail."  

Calderin later filed several internal complaints with the human resources department of the Valls Group and said that he was given $400 in cash from Valls on one occasion, which he interpreted as a bribe for him to not pursue his prior internal complaints.

The lawsuit said no action was taken against Valls.

VIEW: Full lawsuit filed against restaurants

Calderin's attorneys claim that their client was forced to resign because of his treatment by upper management and Valls. They said Calderin was also denied various employment opportunities because of "false and disparaging statements La Carreta's management made to the prospective employers."

Diaz said all allegations made by Calderin in the complaint are "wholly without merit," and said Calderin was hired by a Sergio's restaurant.

"Contrary to the assertions in his complaint, Mr. Calderín was not "involuntarily transferred" from assistant manager at Versailles to La Carreta. In fact, he was given a promotion to manager of La Carreta on Bird Road along with a pay raise. On Sept.1, 2015, Mr. Calderín resigned from his position, stating that he had found another job."

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