Hendler Lyons Flores, PLLC has joined forces with Baker Botts to represent, pro bono, 75 year old grandmother and Cuban immigrant, Eva Lahera, to defend her right to earn a living doing what she knows best—cooking Cuban food.
Eva was trained as a cook in Cuba and when she immigrated with her father, a former political prisoner in Castro’s Cuba, to the United States, she found a job working as a chef in the newly opened La Habana restaurant in South Austin. She worked there for almost 14 years, earning a modest $12 an hour. Once La Habana realized Eva knew what she was doing, the La Habana owners started following her around during her workday to document how she prepared and cooked all the food; they then placed it in a restaurant operations manual—more on this later.
In the fall of 2014, Eva’s daughter finally emigrated from Cuba to join her mother in Austin. Shortly thereafter, a former manager at La Habana opened his own Cuban themed restaurant in far South Austin, called Guantanamera, located more than 5 miles away from La Habana. Because Eva’s daughter needed a job and the newly opened Cuban restaurant needed workers, the owner of Guantanamera offered Eva’s daughter a job in February 2015. When the owners of La Habana learned about that, they reacted by firing Eva without notice, accusing her of conspiring to teach her daughter how to cook La Habana’s dishes, a leap of conspiracy theory logic that was nonsensical.
Eva suddenly found herself out of work for reasons she couldn’t comprehend. But since the new restaurant, Guantanamera needed an experienced cook and she was suddenly available, they offered her a job and she accepted. After all, she had a mortgage to pay and had to provide for herself.
When La Habana learned that Guantanamera had hired someone they had fired, they became incensed. La Habana filed a lawsuit against Eva, the owner of Guantanamera and several others, accusing all of them of conspiring to steal La Habana’s trade secrets. The so-called trade secrets included what La Habana’s owners had written down in the "operations manual" about what they learned from following Eva around--how she prepared the food. Nevertheless, La Habana and its lawyers at Dubois, Bryant and Campbell asserted these were some kind of super secret recipes, even though this is basic Cuban food—Cuban sandwiches, Ropa Vieja, fried plantains—the kind of Cuban fare one would find in virtually every Cuban restaurant in America and its what Eva already knew how to cook before she ever began working at La Habana. That’s why La Habana’s lawsuit is ridiculous. But it gets even worse.
Through intimidation and threats of further litigation, La Habana demanded that Guantanamera fire Eva and never allow her to work there again, even though cooking Cuban food was all Eva knew how to do and this was the only other place anywhere near where she lived where she could earn a modest, subsistence living. Despite this, La Habana stubbornly demanded that Guantanamera agree to fire Eva and enter into a binding judgment and permanent injunction that would prohibit them from ever employing Eva again. Because Guantanamera did not have the resources to fight a frivolous lawsuit, it had little choice but to capitulate to La Habana's demands. Eva never got a chance to be heard because it was all done behind closed doors and before she had a chance to defend herself—until a family friend of Eva's referred her to Scott Hendler of Hendler Lyons Flores, PLLC and Maddy Dwertman of Baker Botts, LLP. That's when the game changed.
Once Hendler and Dwertman investigated and evaluated the facts, it became clear that La Habana had based everything on nothing more than allegations and accusations, but La Habana was never required to prove any of them. So Scott Hendler and Maddy Dwertman challenged the final judgment and injunction that had been entered. Once the Judge Eric Sheppard heard all the facts and realized that Eva Lahera had never had the opportunity to be represented in the settlement, he set aside the judgment to give Eva an opportunity to intervene into the underlying lawsuit. Eva did intervene, but La Habana has now argued Eva’s attempt to intervene should be denied so they can reinstate the one sided injunction preventing Eva from working at Guantanamera.
Hendler Lyons Flores and Baker Botts lawyers argued in court today against that and La Habana’s lawyers argued for it. Judge Eric Sheppard heard argument from everyone and has taken the matter under consideration. His decision is expected in the near future.
But regardless of what the Court ultimately decides about the intervention, Eva, represented by Hendler and Dwertman, intends to assert legal claims against La Habana and possibly its lawyers for abusing the legal process for the purpose of intimidating her, intentional malicious prosecution, defamation and improperly interfering with Eva’s right to earn a living—called tortuous interference with contract. Stay tuned—this story is far from over.