Former Ridgefield horse barn employee sues business for discrimination


A former employee of a North County equestrian center has filed a lawsuit alleging he was terminated after he was hospitalized for chest pains.

In the lawsuit filed on June 25 in Clark County Superior Court, Serafin Larios Mendoza alleges he lost his job from FarmHill Equestrian Center in a manner against state law. He is seeking general damages for an unspecified amount, as well as front and back pay consistent with the alleged offenses.

According to the complaint, Larios Mendoza was hired in March 2019 to care for horses at FarmHill. Between late 2020 or early 2021, FarmHill’s previous owner, Barbara Hort, negotiated a sale of the business to Kuiper Equestrian and its owner, Mikaela Kuiper, according to the filing.

While he wasn’t at work on Jan. 8, Larios Mendoza experienced chest pains and went to the hospital, letting Kuiper know later that day. In correspondence a day later, Larios Mendoza told Kuiper he may need to go into surgery.

On Jan. 10, Kuiper wrote an email to Larios Mendoza stating Kuiper Equestrian “cannot afford the liability of having an employee with a heart problem to do the work that will be asked of you this year,” according to the complaint. In the email, Kuiper notes that after taking ownership of the business, Kuiper Equestrian had not officially hired any employees.

The complaint states Larios Mendoza wasn’t aware he was allegedly not employed at FarmHill, adding he continued to work for the business until he was hospitalized. It also noted the defendants did not make any attempts to discuss accommodations for his disability, actual or perceived.

With the costs of medical treatment and a lack of income, Larios Mendoza’s family set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for bills, the complaint stated. The page read he was “fired because (the defendants) didn’t want to be responsible for an employee with heart issues.”

After the GoFundMe was set up, the former owner Hort, acting on behalf of FarmHill, sent an email to Larios Mendoza and his family, stating he couldn’t be fired as claimed because he was never formally hired, according to the complaint. The lawsuit alleged both Kuiper then Hort followed up in emails stating there was money waiting for Larios Mendoza for the days he worked under the new ownership.

“As of the date of this filing,
(d)efendants continue to treat (Larios Mendoza) as terminated from his position,” the complaint read.

The complaint cited state law that “prohibits discrimination based upon the presence of an actual or perceived disability.” As of The Reflector’s deadline, the case was set for a scheduling conference in November.

The Southwest Washington chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens issued a statement in support of the lawsuit, framing the employment practices as representative of discrimination.

“Until the institutional racism is recognized for the impact it has on all of (Southwest) Washington, we cannot find solutions that are equitable and available to all persons of color here in Clark and Cowlitz Counties,” the statement read.