Several employees at Margarita's Restaurant, the long-time West Side cantina, say they were fired over fears that their sexuality and the restaurant's diverse clientele were driving away customers. And we have audio that the employees say proves their case.
The employees, most of them gay, have filed complaints with the city,
the state and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that a Margarita's owner, David
Quirarte, discriminated against gay workers and forced employees to
discriminate against minority colleagues. Several employees say they plan
to sue the restaurant.
Quirarte spoke with Fat City this morning. His response: "This is all bullshit."
In a complaint filed earlier this month with the Kansas City Human Relations Department, Monica Abarca claims that she was
"subjected to discriminatory comments" by Quirarte, the co-owner
of the four area Margarita's restaurants. He called gays "sillies and fudge packers," she claims, ordered employees "not to have a black or gay person behind the bar" and told
Abarca not to hire any more gay employees.
Abarca worked at the Margarita's Southwest Boulevard
location off and on since she was a teenager. Her father, Ronald
Abarca, is one of the restaurant's founding partners. Before Monica's dismissal on January 24, 2010, her
sister and brother-in-law were also fired. Both have filed complaints with the federal EEOC and the Missouri Commission on
"This isn't just a family issue," says Monica Abarca. "It's a gay thing."
Quirarte denies the allegations. "This situation has
nothing to do with discrimination," he says. "It's a family issue -- they were all
in cahoots together. "
"I have no problems with gay employees," he goes on. "I've had gay employees for years, and some of my best friends are gay. This case is all about money. I knew my partner's daughter was gay when I hired her, and she was still gay when I fired her. That wasn't the issue at all. Believe me, I'll be filing some charges, too."
A successful gay restaurateur in Kansas City, who requested anonymity, worked for
Quirarte during the early years of the original Margarita's and insists
that he never experienced a moment of homophobia during the six years he worked as a server in the restaurant.
"There were four gay employees at that time," the restaurateur says, "and we had, like, sixteen tables in the whole dining room in those days. David Quirarte wasn't a bit homophobic, he was a great employer and a friend. I know some of the dynamics of the current situation and I'm sure it's a personality conflict, not a sexuality conflict."
But in addition to Monica Abarca, at least three other gay employees -- non-family members -- were terminated on December 24. According to documents that were provided by the restaurant, management was going in a "different direction."
"I asked David Quirarte what that meant," says Jaime Oropeza, a six-year veteran server who was fired from the downtown Margarita's. "What kind of new direction was he talking about? But he just kept repeating that the restaurant was going in a new direction, and I was being terminated."
Megan Miller, one of the fired gay employees, says she believes she was fired because of her sexual orientation. But her complaint, filed with
the EEOC, accuses the restaurant of gender discrimination. In it, she claims
that she was ordered to train the son of co-owner Larry Gromer as her own
was told that I was a woman," Miller's complaint alleges, "and I could
not perform the same physical functions (as a) man." She also claims that Miller wound up doing much of the son's work for him
"because he had (personal) plans that did not always allow him to be
available for training."
Another employee, Jason Chadwick, was dismissed on December 8, 2010, along with his wife, Tanya Abarca-Chadwick. In a complaint filed with the EEOC, he claims that he was ordered "not to promote any people who were gay, Mexican or black unless it was in the kitchen." He refused, he claims, and was fired as a result.
Miller says she has hired an attorney
and plans to file a discrimination lawsuit against the restaurant. The
Chadwicks, Monica Abarca and Oropeza also plan on hiring lawyers.
Through it all, Ronald Abarca -- who founded the original Margarita's Restaurant with partners Quirarte and Gromer in 1985 -- has had "very little to do with the day-to-day operations," says Tanya Abarca-Chadwick. He suffers from "a progressive genetic disorder," she says.
"My father was not happy with the firings," she says, "but he told me he had no choice. He didn't have the energy to fight his partners."
The success of the original Margarita's restaurant on Southwest Boulevard, which opened more than 25 years ago, spawned three additional restaurants, in Shawnee, Liberty and the Northland. The driving force behind the restaurants has been, by most accounts, Quirarte; he opened the first Margarita's with his childhood friend, Ron Abarca, and later brought Larry Gromer in as a partner.
Quirarte insists that the sexual orientation of his staff had nothing to do with the firings in December. "The truth will all come out," Quirarte told Fat City. "We have proof of certain financial issues that were going on."
However, an audiotape of Quirarte discussing the restaurant -- recorded by Monica Abarca and provided by her to Fat City -- captures him expressing concerns about his restaurant being "too gay."
Listen below, and sound off yourself in the comments.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said the employees were fired on December 24.
Margarita's by ThePitch