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.