Jury finds El Tequila innocent in labor case
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)