Food News

New Versailles Lawsuit Claims Unsanitary Conditions at the Iconic Restaurant UPDATED

A new lawsuit has been filed against the iconic Calle Ocho restaurant Versailles. A former assistant manager claims the restaurant and its senior management created a hostile work environment after he reported unsafe and unsanitary working conditions such as broken glass in croquetas and roaches in desserts.

According to attorney Pelayo M. Duran, a lawsuit was filed this past January 11 in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on behalf of Claudio Calderin. Cova Inc. (d.b.a. Versailles Cuban Restaurant), La Carreta No. II Inc., and the Valls Group Inc. are listed as defendants.  

"It's unfortunate that Mr. Calderin finds himself in this situation," Duran says. "He complained internally numerous times, trying to get help, and he witnessed an increased retaliation which ultimately ended in a separation." Duran says the allegations against the restaurant are "shocking."

Representatives for Versailles claim the lawsuit is "wholly without merit" and seek to "recover... attorneys’ fees for having to defend this frivolous filing."

The 16-page filing states Calderin began working at Versailles in January 2010 as a food runner, working his way up the restaurant ladder until his promotion to assistant manager in 2012. A few months later, Calderin reported to general manager Rigoberto Hernandez, and from the last quarter of 2012 through October, Calderin alleges, he and Hernandez were instructed by Versailles patriarch Felipe Valls Sr. to "unjustifiably and discriminatorily demote, reduce the work hours, adversely change the work schedules, and adversely change the workstations of certain restaurant employees, in a deliberate and concerted effort to make working conditions for them so intolerable that they would quit their jobs."

Fearing the loss of his job, Calderin followed Valls' instructions and "regrettably implemented numerous adverse actions on various Versailles employees."

The lawsuit states that in the last quarter of 2014 and into January 2014, Calderin began to complain about what he observed as increasingly unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the restaurant, in particular prep areas, kitchen equipment, and plumbing, including "cockroaches in the desserts, human hair in the food, wire brush hairs in the rice, broken glass slivers in the croquetas, [and] rotten, uncooked, cold, stale, and poorly presented foods."

The filing claims Hernandez was terminated in December 2013, shortly after lodging complaints with restaurant management and human resources regarding various improper and illegal actions being engaged in Versailles. The reason for termination was "making and/or authorizing excessive voids and discounts of customer checks, and for allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with another male employee, a waiter named Adriam Mena." Mena had also complained to Versailles about his mistreatment and was terminated around the same time as Hernandez.

Shortly after Hernandez was fired, Calderin began hearing rumors from co-workers that he would "be removed or transferred from Versailles." Calderin then met with human resources directors Jeanette Valls-Edwards and Claudia Castano and was assured the rumors were false. In February 2014, Calderin was involuntarily transferred from his position as assistant manager at Versailles to a nighttime shift assistant manager position at La Carreta, also owned by the Valls family. 

Once at La Carreta, Calderin continued to raise numerous verbal and written objections to management concerning the adequacy of personnel training, the illegal locking of the kitchen's emergency exit door, and "the lack of cleanliness in the work and food preparation areas to prevent a plague of cockroaches, rats, or other pests that could adversely affect or cause health and safety consequences to employees and patrons alike."

Calderin claims an increasingly hostile work environment occurred after he voiced his concerns. He resigned in September 2015. The former Versailles assistant manager claims he has been denied various employment opportunities as a result of false and disparaging statements made to prospective employers.

Calderin is seeking a jury trial and a judgment against Versailles, La Carreta, and the Valls Group for unlawful retaliation in violation of the Florida Whistleblower Act, lost back pay and benefits, compensatory damages, and costs and attorneys’ fees. 

Representatives for Versailles Cuban Restaurant and the Valls Group issued the following statement:
Versailles Cuban Restaurant and La Carreta Bird Road Restaurant have reviewed the claims made by Mr. Calderin in this lawsuit and have determined them to be wholly without merit.

Contrary to the assertions in his Complaint, Mr. Calderin 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 September 1, 2015, Mr. Calderin resigned from his position, stating that he had found another job.

In the 44 years that members of the Valls family have been in 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. In fact, in the last inspection by the Florida Department of Health, Department of Business and Professional Regulations of La Carreta Bird Road, performed months prior to Mr. Calderin’s resignation, found zero health code violations. Furthermore, as a restaurant Manager, Mr. Calderin was personally responsible for ensuring that the establishment was being kept up to health code as required by the State and to the restaurant’s stringent hygiene requirements.

Versailles Cuban Restaurant, La Carreta Bird Road and the Valls Group all expect to prevail in any litigation instituted by Mr. Calderin and will seek to recover its attorneys’ fees for having to defend this frivolous filing."
In 2014, a lawsuit was filed against Versailles and owner Felipe Valls Sr. on behalf of former Versailles general manager Rigoberto Hernandez and Adriam Mena, a former waiter. In the whistleblower lawsuit, the two men claim they were fired for reporting illegal goings-on at the eatery, including the hiring of undocumented workers, sexual-orientation harassment, and wage and hour violations. The lawsuit is still working its way through the legal system.

Duran, who is also representing Hernandez and Mena, says of the similarities in his clients' claims: "The truth is the truth."

UPDATE: Representatives for Versailles Restaurant have sent an email to Miami New Times stating that some allegations in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Claudio Calderin are not entirely true, specifically that Mr. Calderin could not secure employment after leaving La Carreta. According to the email, after Calderin resigned from his position at the restaurant September 1, 2015: 
The very next day, Calderín began employment at a restaurant called Ceviche 105. Mr. Calderín worked at Ceviche 105 from September 2nd to 20th. He obtained this job by soliciting new employment while still working at La Carreta.· Mr. Calderín was considered a problematic employee by his new employer and resigned after a problem with a female manager. It is NOT TRUE that there were false and disparaging statements told by the defendant’s management that resulted in lost employment opportunities, as stated in the lawsuit. The facts are that Mr. Calderín lined up a new job before resigning and began the very next day.
The email also stated that Calderin is now working at Sergio's restaurant. "When his former colleagues at Versailles and La Carreta saw the report, they came to management and told them he was lying and that he was working at Sergio's. They also offered their support to testify that he is lying. We then verified through industry people. Finally, we called and verified with the person who answered the phone."
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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