As Courthouse News first reported, Juanita O'Connell, who is Mexican-American, is suing Taco Bell for back pay and damages in federal court. In a complaint filed Wednesday, O'Connell claims that one of her superiors saw a Latino employee working at the Indianapolis restaurant she managed. The superior then allegedly said to O'Connell: "Didn't I tell you not to hire Hispanics?"
O'Connell, 60, had worked at Taco Bell since 1987, eventually attaining the title of general manager at her restaurant, according to the complaint.
Taco Bell, which serves meals loosely inspired by Mexican cuisine, denied the allegations in a statement to The Huffington Post.
"While we haven't been served with the complaint, these are very serious allegations and if true, are not a reflection of our culture or standards," Taco Bell spokesman Rob Poetsch told The Huffington Post in an email. "We've launched an investigation to get the facts."
"My client was working at one of the Taco Bell stores here in Indianapolis and her area coach basically came up to her and told her she needed to quit hiring Latinos," O'Connell's attorney Joel Paul told HuffPost. "And she continued to hire Latinos, because she thought that was discriminatory."
Paul said that two weeks after the initial incident, O'Connell's supervisors came to the store to punish her for an E-Verify violation that Paul said she may have incurred when hiring an undocumented worker. E-Verify is an online system maintained by the U.S. government for identifying undocumented immigrants who attempt to work illegally.
"They wrote her up, and two or three hours later that same day, they fired her," said Paul.
O'Connell's lawsuit is one of a number of eyebrow-raising complaints brought against Taco Bell in recent years. In 2011, an Alabama firm filed a class-action suit alleging that the beef in Taco Bell meals contained too much filler to be called "meat," according to NPR. The suit was dropped after Taco Bell changed its marketing practices.
Last year, Gary Cole, a prisoner serving a 25-year sentence in a Colorado facility, also sued the chain, saying he had invented the Doritos Locos taco, ABC News reports. The courts later dismissed the case, which Taco Bell said was meritless.