White employees of a Mexican restaurant in Bloomington can press their lawsuit against a South Dakota corporation they say fired them because the company policy was to hire only Mexicans or Hispanics for nonmanagement positions and only whites for management positions.

U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery on Monday denied a motion by Lamont Companies Inc. of South Dakota, which owns and operates restaurants and hotels throughout the Midwest.

The fired employees contended that Lamont Companies “have joint operation” of the restaurant.

Lamont claimed that it was not the workers’ employer and asked for dismissal from the case, but Montgomery ruled that the court needed more information.

“At this pre-discovery stage,” Montgomery wrote, the employees “do not yet possess the corporate documents and other evidence of defendants’ operations that are necessary for answering the fact-intensive inquiry of whether Lamont Companies was plaintiff’s employer.”

Pancheros Mexican Grill is a franchised restaurant that specializes in burritos and other Mexican fare.

Bloomington Burrito Group LLC, a South Dakota limited liability operation managed by Lamont Companies, also is being sued.

According to Montgomery, five of the workers were line cooks, one worker was a delivery driver and one was both a line cook and an assistant manager.

The general manager, Josie Stepan, also was fired for “refusing to apply” a discriminatory policy, the suit claims.

“According to Stepan,” Montgomery wrote, “Pancheros hired only Mexican people for all nonmanagement positions and only white people for management positions.”

Stepan said the employers allegedly justified the policy by stating “Mexicans work hard” and “don’t complain about wages.”

Seven of the employees were terminated in November 2010 and the eighth employee was let go the following year.

Montgomery wrote that in November 2010, Stepan was allegedly told by a managing partner and part-owner that everyone except “you-know-who” was going to be fired.

The part-owner “confirmed this meant everyone except two employees named Carlos and Raul,” according to Montgomery.

When Stepan reported that these intentions were discriminatory, the part-owner corrected her and said, “No, it’s reverse discrimination,” according to Montgomery.

The suit contends that with the exception of Stepan’s positions, the remaining seven white employees were replaced by Hispanic employees.

Attorneys for the defendants could not be reached for comment.


Twitter: @randyfurst