A wrongful termination lawsuit filed against downtown Bakersfield establishment T.L. Maxwell's Restaurant & Bar alleges a server there was fired for repeatedly complaining about health and safety concerns including vermin in the kitchen and being told to scrape mold off rotten food and serve it to customers.

The lawsuit, filed May 4 in Kern County Superior Court on behalf of former Maxwell's employee Cristal Del Toro, seeks damages for physical and emotional distress, past and future loss of earnings and other damages in an amount to be determined at trial.

Terry Maxwell, former city councilman and the restaurant's owner, said Thursday he couldn't comment as he had not been served with the lawsuit. 

T.L. Maxwell's currently has an "A" rating from Kern County Public Health Department.

However, in inspections earlier this year, there were some findings that raised some questions including old rat droppings and live roaches. Maxwell's was ordered to clean and maintain its standards.

Del Toro worked at T.L. Maxwell's from early October 2017 until the end of March. Throughout her employment, the suit says, she noticed repeated health and safety concerns. 

Those concerns included "vermin in the kitchen, vermin on the food shelves, the use of dirty and broken kitchen equipment, serving rotten food with mold to customers under order of being told to 'take the mold off,' cross-contaminating meat and vegetables, serving old food and changing the date on the wrapping, roaches on counters, the lack of sanitizing water available for kitchen staff, and the use of a broken refrigerator so that food was kept at temperatures beneath health standards," the suit says. 

Also, the suit alleges the restaurant employs several undocumented workers who have no working papers but have been there for years, and that Del Toro was denied meal and rest breaks as required under the California Labor Code. 

Del Toro repeatedly complained to restaurant management and in the presence of Maxwell about her concerns, according to the lawsuit. She was fired after several months of making complaints, the suit says. 

Upon terminating her employment, Maxwell told Del Toro, "I think you belong in a corporate restaurant," according to the lawsuit.

A search of the Public Health Department website for T.L. Maxwell's turned up two recent inspections.

The following violations were observed on April 9, 2018 during an inspection by the Kern County Public Health Department:

• Observed dilapidated flooring and coving throughout kitchen. Facility shall repair/seal and maintain flooring/coving in kitchen area within two weeks from the date of inspection. 

• Observed dilapidated ceiling in ware washing area. Facility shall repair/seal and maintain ceiling in kitchen within two weeks from the date of inspection.

• Observed raw chicken stored with/above raw beef and raw beef stored with/above seafood in two reach-in freezers in basement. Refer to safe food storage handout to prevent cross contamination.

• Observed old rodent droppings behind oven. Clean and maintain.

• Observed one live roach in basement and one live roach in kitchen behind preparation table. Observed sticky traps placed on bottom shelf of stainless steel table. Pest control monitors shall be placed on floor to prevent vermin attraction to food contact surfaces.

• Facility must receive a sanitary survey from licensed pest control company within 48 hours from inspection to determine potential areas of vermin entry or activity.

• Documentation of pest control service/sanitary survey shall be sent to district inspector within 48 hours. 

After the April 9 visit, public health gave the restaurant an inspection score of 91 percent. 

The following violations were observed during a March 28, 2018 inspection by the Kern County Public Health Department:

• Observed ambient temperature of standing refrigeration unit next to prep table at 55 degrees.

• Observed old rodent droppings under racks and on stairs in basement.

• Observed one deceased rodent in basement away from food contact surfaces.

• Facility receives regular service from licensed pest control company.

• Facility shall receive sanitary survey from licensed pest control company within 48 hours to determine potential areas of vermin entry or activity.

• Observed dilapidated flooring and coving throughout kitchen. Facility shall repair/seal and maintain flooring in kitchen area within two weeks from the date of inspection.

• Operator voluntarily discarded eggs, dressing, butter and dessert dressing that was observed at temperatures of 55-56 degrees.

After the March 28 visit, public health gave the restaurant an inspection score of 89 percent. 

Del Toro is represented by Rothschild & Alwill, which has offices in Santa Barbara and Bakersfield. 

(11) comments

Eric c

I worked for terry for years and never seen or heard of these type of accusations ever occuring in the workplace,on the contrary,terry always went the extra mile to make sure his establishment was ran to the highest standards. i believe this is just a mad employee who feels has been treated unfairly, Maybe for lack of knowldge, performance,poor attitude,and lack of experience to serve in an upscale enviornment.

JR

Do you think Maxwell being a councilperson has anything to do with this restaurant being kept open and given a very high score for health standards when it would have been closed down by any other county's health department? I do. Unless that is, Kern is that generous to all restaurants and plays a deadly Russian Roulette with all its residents' lives.

Chosewisely

The telling comment is the suggestion the worker is "better suited for a corporate/ chain restaurant"....This discloses the mentality of a business owner whom clearly runs the business by his own standards and is accountable to only his own standards as he sees fit,that particular minute, that particular day etc..The accountability at corporate establishments defines what we , the consumer expect for the services we receive....To be aware of cockroaches... mice droppings and unsafe holding temperatures and then terminate the employee as a remedy is exactly why laws exist to protect the public and employees...it appears the owner lacks not only concern for his patrons health and food quality but also a gross disregard towards concerned employees..Perhaps if the owner has mice droppings, cockroaches and a broken refrigerator at his residence...he is entitled to choose that as acceptable..As for me,I'll pass on the cockroaches and mice feces.

JR

Thank you. Well said.

Carlos24

So Terry is being targeted because he is a conservative. Interesting how folks
deduce that without any reason ,indeed without crediting the health departments
findings. I guess that some Bakersfield folks view everything through a political
lens.He is a conservative so he must be without fault.

JSmith

Terry Maxwell is a conservative guy with a local radio show. Anyone who has visited his restaurant knows it is a great place to eat. TBC just cannot help itself but to pile on Maxwell because of his political beliefs. Nice (hit) job TBC smear a local guy before his day in court.

JR

This comment smells. I bet if anyone cared to investigate who this JSmith is, they'd found out he/she is a close friend or employee of Maxwell's.

Stephen

The complaint sounds like they are talking about somewhere else. It's been a while since We've eaten there several times but both of us agree the food and service were always fabulous. and Terry can always recommend the best wine to pair with the meal.

That said, it would be a really short sighted for Terry or any restauranteur to save a quick nickel by serving tainted food. One unhappy customer can ruin a restaurant's reputation.

I'm thinking it's time to give it another visit. it's been too long and we'll be taking Terry's wine recommendation, angry fee happy lawyers and a disgruntled ex employee not withstanding. http://tlmaxwells.com

JR

So you're saying, you like and enjoy old, unfrigerated, moldy food that's been stored in a warm broken refrigerator and left out next to rat droppings and cockroach sniffing? And don't you dare blame the former employee because you happen to be a close personal friend of the Maxwell family.

Eric c

I always served and cooked the best filet first hand i dont believe the hype by this disgruntled employee

TimRoss

Interesting allegations and I will be watching to see how this develops. I have no personal relationship with Terry Maxwell, although we did meet years ago when he first entered the restaurant business. Then and now, Terry is passionate about his business and the quality of what he offers. I have questions about the specifics of the allegations, they seem "coached" by a lawyer who knows how. Personally I hold a ServSafe Managers certificate, for nearly 10 years that qualifies me to manage any food service business in the United States. I have managed restaurants and understand the seriousness of the accusations. Few of my server employees had much of a clue regarding safety, sanitation, and other related issues even though I trained constantly and monitored their activities. I had to monitor all of my staff, especially servers to be sure the would not be the vector of illness due to sloppy handwashing or cross contamination. The KC Health Dept should be doing an evaluation tomorrow. My guess is the A rating stands. It is sad that any disgruntled employee gets a shot at an established business before the owner has even been notified or served. If it turns out Terry Maxwell is exonerated then I believe the Bakersfield Californian owes news coverage at least as big as this story. That would be the ethical and responsible way to behave.

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