Versailles Restaurant Slapped With Whistleblower Retaliation and Defamation Lawsuit UPDATED
Iconic restaurant Versailles has been slapped with a lawsuit.
Attorneys have filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade Civil Court that claims Versailles Restaurant fired two employees for reporting illegal goings-on at the iconic eatery, including hiring undocumented workers, sexual-orientation harassment, and wage and hour violations.
The lawsuit, which names Versailles and its owner, Felipe A. Valls Sr., as defendants, was filed this past Friday on behalf of former Versailles general manager Rigoberto Hernandez and Adriam Mena, a former waiter there. The suit lists numerous charges the two men claim they witnessed during their time at the restaurant, which attracts some of Miami's top politicians. Hernandez claims the restaurant's human resources officer and co-owner, Janet Valls, said that "she could make the undocumented workers 'disappear' if they were ever investigated by immigration authorities."
Short Order called Versailles and was referred to Valls Group Inc., which serves as the restaurant's corporate office. No one was available for comment there, so we sent a follow-up email. We will update this post when we receive a reply. The restaurant has not, to our knowledge, been fined or cited by any federal or state agency in regard to the allegations mentioned in the lawsuit.
UPDATED: Reynaldo Velazquez of FordHarrison, LLP, who is representing Versailles Restaurant and Felipe Valls Sr., issued the following statement:
Versailles Restaurant, Felipe Valls, Sr. and its owners deny all allegations of unlawful conduct made by two former employees who were terminated for misconduct. Versailles and its owners are prepared to and will vigorously defend the allegations in the complaint that was presented to the media today. Although the owners very much want to speak to the media to address these allegations, they have been instructed by me not to speak to the press about matters in litigation until the case is resolved. Versailles Restaurant and its owners will address all of the allegations in the appropriate forum, which is in a court of law as opposed to litigating this matter in the media. Until then, there will be no further public comment about this case other than what i contained in this statement."
Hernandez also claims some members of Versailles' upper management manipulated point-of-sale (POS) data to over-report restaurant workers' tips in an attempt to "evade state and federal wage and hour minimum wage requirements and to falsely understate restaurant cash income for state and federal income tax reporting purposes."
In addition, Hernandez and Mena allege Versailles owner Felipe Valls Sr. and his son, Felipe Valls Jr., made remarks about their masculinity, "making fun of the colorful way Hernandez dressed and that Mena should stop walking in an effeminate manner."
According to the lawsuit, Valls also "falsely and maliciously accused Hernandez of having a sexual relationship with Mena" and accused the men of conspiring to steal cash from the business by excessively voiding and discounting customer purchases. The two men also say they were demoted, suspended, and threatened with arrest before eventually being terminated.
The lawsuit also alleges it was a regular practice of Versailles to void and discount customer charges to prominent members of the community, naming Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Letinen, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, and U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart as examples.
Hernandez and Mena are seeking compensation for loss of back pay and benefits as well as damages for emotional distress, humiliation, and loss of dignity and punitive damages. One of their attorneys, Pelayo M. Duran, is encouraging any tipped employees of Versailles to come forward with information about the case by calling 305-266-9780.
Versailles made the news last month when the restaurant was cited for 52 health code violations. And in 2012, seven women were arrested at the Miami International Airport Versailles location after allegedly stealing money from the till.