Jury finds El Te­quila in­no­cent in la­bor case

La Semana - - FRONT PAGE / PORTADA -

TULSA, OK -- A jury de­ter­mined last Fri­day at the Fed­eral Court in Tulsa that Car­los Aguirre and El Te­quila LLC com­pany did not pur­pose­fully vi­o­late U.S. la­bor laws. How­ever, the process is still not over, as there re­mains a judg­ment of $1.75 mil­lion in pend­ing pay­ments and com­pen­sa­tion, sep­a­rate from the crim­i­nal trial. This amount would have been $3 mil­lion if the ver­dict had been guilty.

The Depart­ment of La­bor in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­gan three years ago fol­low­ing the in­dict­ment of an ex-em­ployee who al­leged ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in pay­ment of min­i­mum wages, overtime and the han­dling of writ­ten records. El Te­quila cur­rently has al­most a hun­dred His­panic work­ers in its restau­rants in Bro­ken Arrow, Owasso, and Tulsa.

It has not been an easy week for Car­los Aguirre, his wife Ana Pa­tri­cia Her­rera, res­tau­rant staff, their fam­i­lies and friends, nor for the area’s His­panic com­mu­nity in gen­eral. Aguirre is sur­prised by the un­com­fort­able sit­u­a­tion and some­times can’t un­der­stand why he has to go through it, although his en­vi­able faith and the un­con­di­tional sup­port of his wife have al­lowed him to face it with strength. Ev­ery day of the last week he had to at­tend Fed­eral Court and en­dure the dif­fi­cult process of on­go­ing un­cer­tain­ties in which even the clo­sure of the restau­rants ap­peared pos­si­ble.

Strug­gling has been part of the life of Car­los Aguirre. Born in Jalisco, Aguirre was the sec­ond of nine chil­dren of a poor fam­ily. Since the age of seven he worked in the col­lec­tion of ma­nure re­quired for con­struc­tion. At age 16, Aguirre came to the United States and for nine years worked tire­lessly as a waiter and cook. Even in those days, Aguirre told his peers that one day he would have his own res­tau­rant.

Af­ter sav­ing $25,000, Aguirre part­nered with a cousin to open a res­tau­rant in South Carolina. Fol­low­ing the suc­cess­ful ex­pe­ri­ence there, he de­cided to open the first El Te­quila in Tulsa, at 81st and Me­mo­rial, and then another three. Open­ing a new res­tau­rant is not a task that can be done solo, rather one that Aguirre re­lies on em­ploy­ees and friends, along with him­self, to take care of all de­tails of con­struc­tion, elec­tric­ity, car­pen­try, floor­ing and fin­ishes.

He is a con­stant worker, says one of his em­ploy­ees. “He tends to go to the restau­rants, don­ning an apron and serv­ing ta­bles or wash­ing dishes with an ex­em­plary sim­plic­ity.”

And his work has been so re­lent­less that only re­cently did he be­gin to en­joy some­thing that – to Aguirre – was pre­vi­ously un­heard of: “va­ca­tions.”

Aguirre is a me­thod­i­cal and deeply re­li­gious man. He wakes up at five in the morn­ing, reads the Bi­ble for an hour, then goes to the gym and re­turns to pre­pare break­fast. Then he at­tends to is­sues of work from home, then goes to check out the restau­rants.

Those who know him well de­scribe his style as very pa­ter­nal­is­tic.

“He has never dis­missed an em­ployee, even to some sur­prised at in­del­i­cate sit­u­a­tions,” his wife said. “He al­ways gives a sec­ond chance.”

Although he is not very en­am­ored of the so­cial life, Aguirre sup­ports dif­fer­ent causes in his com­mu­nity, helps his em­ploy­ees with fi­nan­cial needs, pro­motes the Church and sup­ports two chil­dren’s foun­da­tions in Mexico and Gu­atemala.

Given the faith, ded­i­ca­tion, and hon­esty that oth­ers as­cribe to Aguirre, it is sur­pris­ing that he should face this thorny process in the jus­tice sys­tem. He rec­og­nizes that ad­min­is­tra­tive – but never ma­li­cious – mis­takes were made at El Te­quila. From this ex­pe­ri­ence, Aguirre en­cour­ages other fel­low en­trepreneurs: keep records of all your trans­ac­tions, avoid the in­for­mal­ity of ver­bal agree­ments, and do not leave the re­spon­si­bil­ity of fig­ures only to your ac­coun­tant, be­cause be­fore the law the only per­son re­spon­si­ble is the le­gal owner. (La Se­m­ana)

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