Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
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Lawsuit over firing ends with agreement

A former prep cook who sued his former employer, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Cafe on Duval Street, has reached an agreement with the eatery.

Jean Valentin in January filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the famous restaurant chain, claiming he was fired because he was Haitian.

An Oct. 7 final mediation report states, "a complete agreement was reached" between the restaurant and Valentin, according to court records.

The terms of that agreement were not included in the records, suggesting they may have been sealed. The agreement also would suggest that the matter no longer will be going to trial.

Attorneys for both sides did not return messages seeking comment. Valentin's attorney is listed as Gary Costales of Miami, and Margaritaville was represented by Patrick Martin, also of Miami.

Marna Killiam, spokeswoman for Margaritaville, told The Citizen in January when reached at corporate headquarters in Orlando that the company declined to comment on the case. Killiam did not return a message seeking comment this week.

Valentin claims in the seven-page complaint filed Jan. 15 that he had been a supervisor in the kitchen where he was called "(expletive) Haitian" and a "horse" by the kitchen manager, according to the lawsuit.

The root of the lawsuit centers on the three days Valentin took off between March 29 and March 31, 2009, in which he returned to find little prep work had been done, leaving with him with a "great deal of work," the lawsuit states.

Valentin claims when he asked the kitchen manager why no work had been done in his absence, the kitchen manager swore at him and then fired him, according to the lawsuit. Valentin went to the company's human resources department, but officials sided with the kitchen manager's decision to fire him.

Valentin was hired March 25, 1997, and worked there until he was fired April 10, 2009. During that time, he reportedly was only disciplined once for an attendance issue, the lawsuit states.

In May 2009, he filed a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR), the lawsuit states. The FCHR failed to make a determination, but the EEOC found that "there was reasonable cause to believe that unlawful discrimination occurred," according to the lawsuit.

The EEOC interviewed other Haitian employees at the restaurant who "confirmed the kitchen manager used language directed at each of them that was derogatory to their national origin," according to the lawsuit.

The workers also reportedly told the EEOC they heard the kitchen manager use the same language toward Valentin.

Margaritaville officials, however, claimed during the EEOC's investigation, other coworkers had been "improperly influenced by Valentin."

Valentin claims in the lawsuit that the EEOC found Margaritaville's claim had no merit.

"Witness statements gathered by the EEOC also established that the kitchen manager treated Haitian employees differently than non-Haitian employees in that Haitians were called derogatory names and ridiculed," the lawsuit states.

Valentin was fired "just nine days after he complained of the discrimination," according to his lawsuit.

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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