A 62-year-old longtime cook at a popular Mexican restaurant in Boyle Heights is suing his former employer, alleging he was fired in May because of his age and that he was required to train the younger woman tapped to replace him.
Anarbol Lopez maintains in his Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit brought Wednesday against El Tepeyac Cafe and its owner, Elena Rojas, that he was told his termination resulted from his drinking on the job, even though other employees did the same thing and the owners supplied some of the alcohol.
Lopez’s allegations include wrongful termination, discrimination, retaliation and harassment. He seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Rojas could not be immediately reached for comment.
Lopez says he was hired by the cafe in 1986 and received praise for a diligent work ethic in which he was on the job every day except Tuesday, often working as many as 14 hours.
“During his employment, he did every task he was instructed to do without ever complaining,” according to his suit.
Lopez alleges he was “indirectly” taunted by management the few times he was able to take meal or rest breaks, so he stopped taking them to keep his job.
In February, Lopez says he was told by management to train a younger, female co-worker for another opening and the plaintiff cooperated, using his knowledge from being at the cafe for so long to help the new colleague. But Lopez later learned that the worker was actually hired to replace him, according to the suit.
When the plaintiff asked the owner’s son for a raise from his $17 hourly wage due to the amount of work he was doing and his experience, the owner’s son laughed at him, told him he was too old, that he was not needed in the company and that he should be thankful he had a job, the suit alleges.
“Plaintiff was left disheartened as he spent over 28 years of his life working at (the) company, contributing to the company’s growth and success,” the suit states.
Lopez’s workload was increased as a pretext to “get rid of a 62-year-old man after using him for his years of experience to train the young female employee,” the suit alleges. “It came to a point where anything plaintiff did was never acceptable to the management’s preference.”
Lopez was fired May 25 after returning from a two-week vacation and told it was because he drank alcohol on the job, the suit states.
“Plaintiff was absolutely stunned as he had been with the company for several years and it is very common practice in the company that employees drank alcohol,” the suit states. “In fact, the owner used to bring and produce the alcohol for the employees, including the plaintiff, since the workload was hectic.”
Management never told Lopez he could not drink alcohol on the premises, the suit states.
In addition to the original Evergreen Avenue location that opened in 1955, El Tepeyac has a second location in Industry. The El Tepeyac menu features large burritos, including the Hollenbeck and the 5-pound “Manuel’s Special.”
The eatery has a standing challenge to customers to eat a “Manuel’s Special” in a single visit.
“Over the years, many have tried, but few have succeeded,” according to the cafe’s website.