Ex-worker for Si Casa Flores wins $200,000 in lawsuit

A former Si Casa Flores employee who claimed he was a victim of unwanted sexual contact by one of the chain's owners has been awarded more than $200,000 in U.S. District Court in Medford.

A jury found Leo Esquivel's civil rights had been violated when Si Casa Flores' owners, Juan Flores and Gregorio Rodriguez created a hostile work environment by subjecting him to unwanted sexual conduct in the workplace, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, Medford attorney Bob Robertson said Monday.

Robertson said in the lawsuit that Flores, the chain's operations manager, inappropriately touched male employees and demanded sexual favors in trade for better pay and more hours. Robertson said Flores' actions were openly tolerated by Rodriguez, Si Casa Flores' chief executive officer. The jury also awarded Esquivel $37,500 in punitive damages after the three-day trial, Robertson said.

Esquivel had worked as a server at all four Si Casa locations in and around Medford since 2008.

He began his employment at the Biddle Road location and soon noticed Flores engaging in inappropriate sexual touching of other employees near their genitals and on their buttocks, Robertson said.

At one point Flores slapped Esquivel's buttocks so hard he suffered bruising and considered seeking medical attention, Robertson said. Esquivel told Flores not to hit him. Flores laughed and continued to engage in the abuse, the Medford lawyer said.

"This kind of conduct should not be allowed in our community," Robertson said.

Esquivel tried to avoid Flores, but on numerous occasions Esquivel continued to be slapped and Flores attempted to grab Esquivel's crotch, Robertson wrote in the lawsuit. Flores also demanded oral sex and bragged he had been having sex with employees for several years, the suit stated. Co-owner Rodriguez observed Flores' behavior often, but did nothing to stop it, Robertson said.

Robertson's lawsuit stated that Flores said of his employees, "They can't do anything to me because I have power and money over them."

Employees who accommodated Flores' abuse received better schedules and favorable treatment, Robertson said. Those who did not were transferred to other locations where they would earn less money or were threatened with deportation, he said.

"All of the people who were abused are Hispanic males who speak very little English," Robertson said. "They were terrified of his power and riches. They were afraid they would be sent away or lose their job. Most of these victims are married with children."

Esquivel suffered physical pain and injury and continues to suffer severe emotional distress, mental pain and anguish, humiliation and loss of enjoyment of life, Robertson said.

Multiple attempts to reach Flores and Rodriguez at the respective restaurant locations were unsuccessful.

Robertson said he is representing Francisco Flores and Eduardo Lopez, who also have filed sexual harassment suits in U.S. District Court against Juan Flores and Rodriguez. Those suits alleged that the plaintiffs also endured uninvited and unwelcome, offensive sexual comments and remarks, touching, molestation and groping.

Eric Mitton, an attorney with Medford law firm Hornecker, Cowling, Hassen & Heysell, who represented Flores and Rodriguez during the case, said his firm also will represent the owners in the other two suits. Mitton said the district judge has advised the attorneys not to make public comment on the cases as they wind their way through the justice system. Mitton declined to discuss Esquivel's case as well.

"I don't see how I can talk about one without the others," Mitton said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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