Upper East Side Caterer Called Her Workers 'Dirty Mexicans', Lawsuit Says

By Victoria Bekiempis on March 18, 2013 8:15am 

 Maria & Lorenzo's Kitchen, located at 1418 Third Ave., is the subject of a recently filed racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit.
Maria & Lorenzo's Kitchen, located at 1418 Third Ave., is the subject of a recently filed racial and sexual discrimination lawsuit.
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DNAinfo/Victoria Bekiempis

UPPER EAST SIDE — The proprietress of a popular neighborhood catering company hit workers and called them "dirty Mexicans" and "whores" — and reprimanded these employees when her boyfriend exposed himself to them, a recently filed lawsuit claims.

Maria A. Armendariz, who owns and operates Lorenzo & Maria's Kitchen at 1418 Third Ave., not only abused her workers with racial and sexual epitets, but also failed to pay now ex-employees Enriqueta Luna and Inelia Gabriela Ortega wage and overtime, the civil complaint states.

According to the March 8 court filings in U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York and telephone interviews with DNAinfo.com New York, trouble started for these women almost as soon as they took jobs with Armendariz.

Luna, whose tenure at the Kitchen lasted 12 years, said she worked for approximately 14 hours per day, six days per week from the get-go, never receiving overtime, the filings state.

Meanwhile, Armendariz and Nicodemus Pedraza — a co-defendant described as Armendariz' boyfriend in the filings — racially and sexually harassed Luna.

"She told me everyday that I was a 'Mexican whore. She told me I was a prostitute. She told me I was an 'a-- -faced Mexican,' and that I came to the U.S. to rob Americans' money," Luna, 48, said in Spanish.

"I never robbed anyone of anything. I didn't come here to rob anyone. It offended me a lot."
The complaint papers also claim that Armendariz, "who is light-skinned and is from Uruguay, would regularly call Luna a 'dirty Mexican'" and "also yelled at Luna and told her that she was an old, fat woman with a 'big a--' that was 'darker than a donkey.'"

On several occasions, Luna added, Pedraza "lowered his pants and showed me his [penis.]"

When she complained, Armendariz blamed Luna for "provoking" him, she said.

"The woman told me that I was crazy, that I was a hag," she said. ""I was always very respectful — I wasn't trying to provoke my boss or her boyfriend."

The civil complaint also alleges that Pedraza told Luna to "'get on all fours' so he could have sex with her and demanded that she perform oral sex.

Ortega, a Chilean of Peruvian descent, claims that she encountered similar difficulties while doing domestic and culinary work for Armendariz.

"She would call me the 'whore of the house.'  She said that I was going to rob her — that I came to America to steal," said Ortega, 57, in Spanish.

The legal filings further maintain that Armendariz "constantly made comments such as 'Thank God I'm not Chilean,' and 'All Chileans are whores'" and that the shopkeeper "frequently called her 'India Peruana,' suggesting that Ortega was inferior because many Peruvians have indigenous roots."

Pedraza also tried to grab her buttocks, Ortega claims.

Ortega too alleged that Armendariz blamed her for this.

"She said it was our fault," Ortega said, "because we're 'loose women.'"

Armendariz and Pedraza did not respond to several requests for comment.

MFY Legal Services' Anamaria Segura, who along with Maia Goodell is representing the women, said she expected that a hearing on the suit — which seeks unpaid wages and undisclosed monetary damages for alleged emotional distress — would take place within the next several months.

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