Former Versailles and La Carreta Employee Claims Retaliation in Lawsuit After Complaining of 'Unsanitary Conditions' - NBC 6 South Florida

Former Versailles and La Carreta Employee Claims Retaliation in Lawsuit After Complaining of 'Unsanitary Conditions'

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    Claudio Calderin

    UPDATE:

    After NBC 6 first reported Wednesday on a lawsuit filed by a former assistant manager who worked at Versailles restaurant and the La Carreta restaurant on Bird Road, there is new information about Claudio Calderin's work history after leaving the restaurants.

    Calderin says he resigned after he faced retaliation for documenting and telling supervisors about what he called unsanitary conditions. Claims the restaurant's owners adamantly deny. Calderin resigned about 4 months ago and said he hasn’t been able to find work.

    The restaurant's legal and public relations teams say the day after NBC 6 reported that Calderin had not been able to find work, they received calls from employees that Calderin did work at two South Florida restaurants after leaving Versailles and La Carreta.

    Friday, NBC 6 contacted Cvi.Che 105. We were told Calderin was employed at their South Beach location in a management position and was hired in early September and left on September 20th. His reasons for leaving were not given. Another restaurant, Sergios in Doral, told us that Calderin is currently employed there as a waiter but the manager did not know his date of hire.

    Versailles’ owners say Calderin's accusations in the lawsuit are not true - that he had "made efforts to secure new employment but was denied various employment opportunities as a result of false and disparaging statements made to the prospective employers by Defendants’ management.” In an email written just over a month after we were told he left his position on South Beach, Calderin wrote to the Versailles management asking them to refrain from any negative comments about him during his efforts to find employment. The letter is part of the lawsuit.

    One of Calderin's attorneys says the restaurants' assertion that he resigned to take another job are untrue and provided an email Calderin apparently wrote to the company’s HR department. In a statement Wednesday, Versailles management said Calderin told them he was leaving to take another position. Attorney Rod Hannah says after leaving South Beach, Calderin took a job to try to make ends meet but it wasn’t close to what he was doing before.

    He also indicated the focus on Calderin's status after leaving La Carreta was an attempt to divert attention from Calderin’s accurations about unsanitary conditions and the more than 50 violations a state inspector found during an inspection when Calerin worked there. Recent records showVersailles met the state’s health standards during its inspection in November. The company’s attorneys said in more than 4 decades in business, it has an impeccable record when it comes to cleanliness.

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    UPDATE:

    Legal counsel and a public relations firm representing Versailles have discovered Claudio Calderin did find employment almost immediately after leaving La Carreta, and claim any allegation in Calderin's lawsuit that he could not find work or statement that he could not find work to be untrue.

    Roderick Hannah, one of Calderin's attorneys, says that his client was retaliated against and what happened to him after has nothing to do with the conditions that forced his client to resign.

    Hannah adds that Calderin could not find any similar management job when he left La Carreta. Hannah says that his client is currently employed as a bartender, as he needed income to pay his bills.

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    ORIGINAL STORY:

    Video and photographs have been released to NBC 6 showing what a former employee says was going on behind the scenes at two of South Florida's most popular restaurants.

    It's coming to light because of a lawsuit filed by a former employee of Versailles and one La Carreta restaurant, who believes he was retaliated against because he complained about what he called unsanitary conditions.

    Claudio Calderin told NBC 6 the video was taken by a co-worker, and he took the photographs, inside the kitchens at Versailles and the La Careta location in the 8600 block of Bird Road during his employment there.

    He said he took photos about two years ago to document what he saw inside Versailles' kitchen; broken plumbing and dirty spaces where food was being prepared. He said many times he had to void or discount customers' bills due to unsanitary conditions.

    "I am trying to be honest with people, honest with people. I just want to be fair with everybody," Calderin said.

    Calderin started in 2010 at Versailles as a food runner and worked his way to assistant manager. The lawsuit says about two years ago Calderin started notifying bosses about what he perceived as: "...increasingly unsafe and unsanitary conditions at Versailles. Cockroaches in the desserts, human hair in the food, wire brush hairs in the rice, broken glass slivers in the croquettes."

    "We expect the employer of course in those situations to take the employee's complaints and not to retaliate against the employees and to correct the problem," said Roderick Hannah, one of Calderin's attorneys.

    About the time Calderin was complaining, state inspectors found just over 50 violations at Versailles; a few listed as high priority involving the plumbing and temperature of foods, but none were considered an immediate threat to the public. Reports show the items were fixed by the following day.

    "The records say what he was saying was true, backed him up almost 100 percent," Hannah said.

    Versailles told NBC 6: "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. 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. Versailles Cuban Restaurant, La Carreta Bird Road and the Valls Group all expect to prevail in any litigation."

    Calderin said he finally had no choice but to resign, and claims he was not fairly treated.

    The company said Calderin quit, telling them he had a new job, but Calderin claims in the lawsuit that it was difficult for him to find new work. Calderin indicated that he now has a lesser paying job. He believes he should be protected under Florida's Whistleblower Act that protects workers who report violations of the law or regulations.

    Pelayo Duran, also Calderin's attorney, told NBC 6 that state records indicate that there were violations at La Carreta as well during his employment there, and about the time some of the images were taken.

    As for Versailles, state inspectors found it met health and safety standards in November.

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