A longtime Johnny Rockets employee who was hired by the company’s founder in 1991 and promoted often over his career is suing the restaurant chain, alleging he was fired earlier this year because he took time off for an on-the-job injury and made complaints about workplace discrimination related to his sexual orientation.
David Rodriguez’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit against the Johnny Rockets Group Inc., Fat Brands Inc. and one of his supervisors, Barbara Anaya, was filed Tuesday and seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. The 58-year-old plaintiff also maintains he was a victim of age and sexual orientation discrimination and that he was subjected to intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A Johnny Rockets representative could not be immediately reached.
Rodriguez was hired as a server in June 1991 by Ronn Teitelbaum, the original Johnny Rockets founder, at the chain’s La Cienega Boulevard location, the suit states. During his 29 years with Johnny Rockets, he also served at other locations, including the original restaurant on Melrose Avenue, and he worked as a manager and corporate trainer for several of the chain’s franchises worldwide, including Hawaii and Canada, the suit states.
Although Rodriguez’s loyalty to Johnny Rockets and his exceptional skills were well-known in the restaurant industry and among franchise owners and employees, throughout his employment he endured unlawful discrimination and retaliation in the workplace for his sexual orientation, the suit states.
A co-worker in January 2018 berated the plaintiff during a workplace confrontation and used a pejorative for gay people, the suit states. Rodriguez, “shocked and mortified,” reported the incident to his on-duty supervisor and filed a formal complaint with management, according to the suit.
Rodriguez also told Anaya what happened and he believes she reported what happened to a Johnny Rockets district manager, but no action was taken, the suit states.
Rodriguez suffered an unspecified injury while leading a corporate training seminar last November, but the same district manager told him to complete the session, the suit states. The plaintiff “did so in agonizing pain, visibly struggling and limping,” yet the district manager heckled him and said in front of the trainees, “Look at him, that’s the best we’ve got,” and “He can’t even carry a cup or tray,” according to the suit.
Rodriguez requested workers compensation paperwork that day, but never received it despite promises from Anaya, the suit states. When he went to a hospital emergency room in severe pain later that month, he was refused treatment because he did not have the paperwork, according to the suit.
Rodriguez was eventually diagnosed with tears to his meniscus and ACL and was recommended for surgery, but while he was out on medical leave he was instructed to return to work in January or possibly be fired, the suit states.
Rodriguez received termination papers in March that were dated in February, the suit states. He believes he lost his job due to his disability, age, sexual preference, requests for medical leave and workplace complaints, according to the suit, which further states he has suffered financial and emotional harm.