Food News

Airport Food Court Operator Slammed with Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

A lawsuit was filed yesterday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court that claims employees and upper level management of the companies that operate over two dozen restaurants at Miami International Airport harassed a man due to his sexual orientation. 

The 15-page complaint, which names Global Concessions Inc., Gateway Airport Concessions Inc., and Airport Concessions Group Inc. d/b/a/ Global Miami Joint Venture as defendants, was filed on behalf of Modesto J. Torres, a manager at one of Miami International Airport's food courts. Some of the restaurants Global Miami Joint Venture operates include Manchu Wok, Au Bon Pain, Villa Pizza, Sushi Maki, Islander Bar, Nathan's, Cafe Versailles, and La Carreta.
Not named in the lawsuit is former secretary of Global Concessions Inc., Felipe Valls Sr., who is also founder of Versailles restaurant. Valls Sr. was recently accused of of sexual harassment in a case that was dropped. In it, Ayler Ayala, a cashier at Miami International Airport, claimed she and Valls Sr. were engaged in an "extremely sordid" sexual relationship. That lawsuit was dismissed at Ms. Ayala's request, according to Victor Diaz, an attorney who co-represented Global Miami Joint Venture.

Among the allegations in the complaint filed on behalf of Mr. Torres : Felipe Valls Jr., current president of defendant Global Concessions Inc. falsely accused Torres of "making sexually explicit comments to co-employees about the sexual body parts of Dominican men," although Torres claims he "had never had any other form of formal contact conversation or any other discussions about anything with Valls."  
Torres, who has been employed by Global Miami Joint Venture since September 2002, alleges that he has been subjected to a hostile work environment at Global based on continuous and pervasive sexual and sexual orientation harassment by his co-workers and supervisor, Raquel Benitez-Gamboa. 

Torres, who is gay, says that co-employees and managers used vulgar, profane, and degrading language, including referring to him in Spanish as "pato" ("faggot) and "maricon conflictivo" ("conflicting faggot"). He and another co-employee were referred to as "maricones de culo y maricones de boca" ("ass faggots and mouth faggots").

The lawsuit also states that Torres was questioned about whether he suffered from HIV when he had a cough at work by a co-worker. And his supervisor, Raquel Benitez, asked him if his parents accepted him as homosexual. Torres also claims that fellow employees placed a cucumber and two tomatoes in the shape of male genitalia in his office "in order to laugh at Plaintiff when he discovered it."

Other allegations include the refusal to be granted certain holidays off, requiring him to come into work sick, and refusing to allow him to take his accrued vacation days.

Torres is seeking compensatory damages, including damages for severe emotional distress, mental pain and anguish, humiliation, and loss of dignity. Torres is also seeking punitive damages and attorney's fees.

Modesto Torres issued the following statement through his attorney, Pelayo M. Duran:
"Global Miami Joint Venture is a company that does not properly train their employees and/or their management to respect and follow the laws of this country in Miami International Airport. I began encountering sexual orientation discrimination from some of my fellow employees and also from some of the managers. The abuse appeared in different forms, making fun of the way I talk; placing vegetables in suggestive sexual forms at the door of my office, and many more. I presented a complaint to my superiors seeking a solution to the harassment. Global Miami Joint Venture, instead of looking for a ways to solve the sexual discrimination, abuse and/or offer training to their personnel to help stop the illegal harassment stressing the laws of this country, turned against me with gross retaliation.

Furthermore, after management and ownership learned about my Charge of Discrimination, I received verbal threats from one of the owners against my persona and my attorney."

A representative for Global Miami Joint Venture issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit:
• Global Miami Joint Venture does not tolerate any form of workplace discrimination, including on the basis of sexual orientation.
• The allegations of one disgruntled employee are neither new, nor true.
• Mr. Torres’ allegations have been thoroughly investigated by both the company and an outside impartial former United States Department of Labor investigator and found to be wholly without merit.
• Mr. Torres is being represented by the same lawyer who earlier sued the same joint venture, ran to the media with sensational allegations – only to have the/in the end, this lawsuit was dismissed by the Court when his own client had to go to Court and insist that her lawsuit be dismissed because this attorney refused to follow her request to do so.
• This lawsuit will be vigorously defended in a court of law, where allegations require proof, not sensational and false accusations –allegations which would be subject to actions for slander if not cloaked with the immunity from prosecution that exists for court filings.

VIctor Diaz of V.M. Diaz and Partners, the attorney who is representing Global Miami Joint Venture, told New Times, "the allegations are sensational. They are attention grabbing, but they are totally lacking in specificity, They are not attributed to anyone. There's no speaker, there's no time, there's no place, there's no date. They were taken seriously when made, were totally investigated, and now they will be vigorously defended in a court of law.

The evidence was investigated, but because of the seriousness of all the allegations, the U.S. Department of Labor was brought in and the results were that there was no support that he [Modesto Torres] was treated unfairly because of his sexual orientation.. In fact, the only evidence that was corroborated was that of Mr. Torres himself because of the manner in which he conducted himself. He made jokes and encouraged others to do the same."

Diaz also stated that Global Miami has a zero tolerance policy on harassment, including sexual orientation. " With over 800 employees this is the allegation of one employee and I question why would you not immediately walk off the job?"  

Diaz added that, "discrimination is a very serious matter, particularly at this time in our country’s evolution. There is a very important and relevant discussion taking place in making someone's sexual orientation irrelevant to being employed and there are many people struggling for equal rights. This company does not discriminate against any employees or customers, and this [lawsuit]  will come as a great surprise to the company's many proud and out members of the LGBT community.

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss