To many regulars, La Familia restaurant co-owner Al Cavazos seems like one of the nicest guys in town, often greeting customers with a handshake when they enter his beloved Tex-Mex eatery in the West 7th Street corridor. But the bald, bespectacled, diminutive Cavazos and his daughter, co-owner Lanette Cavazos, are being taken to court by three former employees who claim they’ve been threatened, humiliated, and repeatedly denied their due wages.
The suit, filed in late December in Fort Worth federal court, alleges that the Cavazoses committed numerous violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), a 1938 law that applies to any business with annual sales of more than $500,000. Plaintiffs Joe Lara, Miguel Velazquez, and Juan Cano are seeking unspecified actual damages, punitive damages, and legal fees.
The Cavazoses, the filing says, frequently made improper deductions from the former employees’ paychecks. The former employees also say they were “regularly, even daily, cursed at, psychologically humiliated, and, in some cases, even threatened [and] physically abused.” The filing quotes Al Cavazos as having once told one of the plaintiffs, “If you f–k with my restaurant or my livelihood, I will kill you.” The court filing also alleges that Lanette Cavazos sometimes managed the restaurant “in a severely intoxicated state and on one or more occasions brandished a firearm and waved it around the restaurant in the direction of various employees.”
The Cavazoses filed a response denying all of the allegations. Reached by phone this morning (Tuesday), Lanette Cavazos had no comment and referred questions to her and her father’s lawyer, Dallas-based Mike Coles.
Lara had worked as a waiter for La Familia for about 20 years before he was “abruptly terminated without cause” on March 17, according to the plaintiffs’ filing. Velazquez, who’d been waiting tables at the restaurant for about 15 years, was “constructively terminated,” the filing says, in late March “because of the unconscionable conduct” of the Cavazoses. Cano worked as a cook off and on for many years and consecutively for the past five until he was “abruptly terminated without cause” in mid-March, according to the filing.
The plaintiffs allege that other employees also were financially shorted or emotionally abused. Current La Familia employees, the pleading says, “have been wrongfully threatened by the defendants because of [current employees’] friendship and/or kinship with the plaintiffs.”
The former employees’ lawyers are trying to identify “all employees who have been denied wages so that they can be notified and joined to the suit should they so desire,” said Chip Searcy, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.
The FLSA allows for filing in state or federal court. The former employees initially filed suit in Tarrant County District Court, but the Cavazoses opted to move the case to federal court, which the law permits.