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76-year-old diver sues Casa Bonita, claims he was refused audition due to age

In a complaint filed against the restaurant's parent company, Samuel Hernandez says he was told he was "too old" to work there as a diver.
Credit: 9NEWS

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. — A 76-year-old diving champion has filed a lawsuit against the parent company of Casa Bonita, claiming that a manager for the restaurant refused to let him audition for a position as a cliff diver because he was too old.

The employment discrimination complaint was filed Sept. 30 in Jefferson County District Court on behalf of Samuel Hernandez against Summit Family Restaurants, which owns the iconic Mexican restaurant in Lakewood.

The complaint says that Hernandez, who was the only American to win the World Class Diving Championships twice, in 1977 and 1979, applied around December 2018 to be a cliff diver. The restaurant features cliff divers as part of its entertainment for diners.

In spring 2019, a hiring manager contacted Hernandez. He set up an audition for May 14, but the restaurant canceled the audition the day before for "liability and safety" reasons, according to the complaint.

When Hernandez spoke to a manager at the restaurant the next day, the manager told him that older people have difficulty working a full shift, the complaint says.

“The problem is that I’ve dealt with older divers before. You are too old, and I can’t understand why you want to be employed by Casa Bonita,” the manager said, according to the complaint.

In June 2020, Hernandez filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which ruled in his favor and issued a Notice of Right to Sue, the lawsuit says.

Hernandez is claiming violations of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans With Disabilities Act and is suing for economic and other damages.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Summit Family Restaurants is based in Salt Lake City. The phone number listed for the company is disconnected.

Casa Bonita has been closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The restaurant's website has been taken down, and the phone number rings with no response.

Around the time that the governor temporarily closed restaurants due to coronavirus, Casa Bonita employees said that they went to pick up their paychecks, and the checks bounced.

RELATED: Casa Bonita employees say checks have bounced

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