RENO, Nev. – A former restaurant worker claims he was fired because he had demanded to see identification for a young-looking woman at Ben Roethlisberger's table where the NFL quarterback and his friends were drinking.
Alvaro Brito, a former assistant manager at the Cabo Wabo Cantina at Harrah's Lake Tahoe who had worked for the company for 12 years, said he was fired in July 2008 in a lawsuit filed against the hotel-casino and its Lake Tahoe president John Koster.
The new lawsuit, filed Sept. 25 in Washoe County District Court in Reno and first reported by the Reno Gazette-Journal, does not name Roethlisberger as a defendant. But it potentially has a connection to a separate lawsuit filed by another former Harrah's employee against the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback, Koster and a number of Harrah's officials alleging that Roethlisberger raped her at the hotel in July 2008 and that the company covered it up.
Roethlisberger denies the allegation.
In the woman's lawsuit, the former VIP hostess said a reason she did not report the alleged sexual assault to police was because she had been told that another employee had been fired, or was about to be fired, as a result of Roethlisberger's restaurant complaint.
Brito's lawsuit said he was working at Cabo Wabo on July 7, 2008, during the annual celebrity golf tournament across the street when the dispute over the carding of the woman occurred. The alleged rape victim said she was assaulted on July 11.
Brito said he was informed on July 14 that he had been suspended specifically because of the incident over the woman's identification card.
Both lawsuits claim Koster was a big fan and friend of Roethlisberger and that it had become general knowledge among employees that they should go out of their way to please the two-time Super Bowl winner.
Roethlisberger's lawyers have maintained that the woman's claim she reported the incident to Harrah's security — but chose not to file a criminal complaint or contact police — was evidence she had concocted the allegations that she was lured to his room and sexually assaulted.
The Associated Press, as a matter of policy, does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted.
Harrah's spokesman John Packer told The Associated Press in an e-mail the company does not comment on pending litigation.
David Cornwell, a lawyer for Roethlisberger, said in an e-mail that "the cases are unrelated, except to the extent that two opportunistic lawyers see a benefit in dragging Ben's name into their clients' employment disputes."
The woman said in a deposition for her lawsuit that Guy Hyder, Harrah's director of security, specifically had told her that Koster "was a huge fan, and how important it was for me to ensure that he had a nice trip."
The court documents said Hyder also told her Roethlisberger had been in the Cabo Wabo restaurant "and that he was not happy with the way he was treated and that he reported the waitress and manager to president John Koster while they were golfing."
"I was afraid to go to the police as I knew from Hyder's expressed attitude and from what Koster had done to the waitress and manager at Cabo Wabo, that John Koster and Guy Hyder would protect Ben Roethlisberger and the company rather than supporting a police investigation," the woman said in the deposition.
Brito said in his lawsuit that he did not recognize Roethlisberger on the night of the incident. A U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, he claimed each of the guests who were drinking at Roethlisberger's table "mocked, made fun of and mimicked" him and his accent during the encounter.
When the woman at the quarterback's table refused to produce an ID, Brito said he called for security but was told it would be awhile before they could respond. Roethlisberger eventually handed Brito the ID of the woman, who turned out to be 27, the lawsuit said.
The suit said Roethlisberger later asked Brito if he knew Koster. Brito acknowledged he did and had been to Koster's office, where he observed "a large volume of Pittsburgh Steeler items."
"Roethlisberger then said that he was a good friend of Koster and that he would be speaking to Koster about" the restaurant worker, the lawsuit said.
Brito said on July 12, Cabo Wabo's manager told him he had been suspended, but that by the end of the day he had been informed "he was terminated because of the incident ... with the Roethlisberger group."