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Alleged Wage Law Violations and Discrimination at Restaurant Chain

1151761_waiter.jpgAnother restaurant chain is coming under fire for potential discrimination against a protected class of employees. Last year, Texas Roadhouse Restaurants, which is based in Louisville Kentucky, was sued for allegedly discriminating against employees and potential employees that were over the age of 40. The lawsuit claims that interviewers remarked about applicants’ ages during interviews, and that older employees were not allowed to be hosts or work at the bar. Instead they were relegated to the back of the restaurant or the kitchen. Even the people pictured in the training materials were obviously individuals well under 40.

Darden Restaurants owns several popular chains throughout the United States, including LongHorn Steakhouse, Red Lobster, and Olive Garden. The company employs over 180,000 people. Employees of Capital Grille, another of Darden’s chains, have filed a lawsuit claiming racial discrimination and violation of federal wage laws. Similar to the Texas Roadhouse suit, employees of a protected class – in this case minorities – claim they are being discriminated against by being given less desirable positions in the restaurants and are being denied the chance to advance in the company. Some experts think the plaintiffs will have a hard time proving this part of the case because the CEO of the company is African American and about 30 percent of the managers-in-training that have moved up from other roles are minorities.

The other issue in the case is the alleged violation of federal wage laws. Servers in restaurants are generally exempt from minimum wage laws, which means they can be paid less than minimum wage, because they earn tips that in theory make up the difference in pay. According to the lawsuit against Darden, the company currently requires servers to share a portion of their tips with hourly employees, whose hourly rates are higher than the servers because they have to be paid at least minimum wage. Restaurant employees also claim that they have to do prep work before their shifts begin and after they end and they are not being compensated for it.

Restaurant Opportunity Centers United (ROC), which advocates for restaurant workers in nine locations, has filed the suit on behalf of the employees and it hopes to achieve class-action status for the suit. If this occurs, affected employees at all Darden restaurants across the United States may be eligible for back pay, interest, and possibly even damages.

In today’s economy, many of us think we should just be thankful we have a job and that we shouldn’t question our employers’ actions. But no type of economy gives a company the right to take advantage of its employees or discriminate against them. If you think you are being unfairly compensated at work or discriminated against, you should speak to a Kentucky employment attorney. Charles Miller and Rheanne Falkner are well-versed in all aspects of employment law in Kentucky and Indiana and have helped numerous people with employment issues.

Sources:

Lawsuit accuses Darden chain of discrimination, wage-law violations; Orlando Sentinel; Sara K. Clarke; January 31, 2012
Controversial advocacy group takes legal aim at Darden; Orlando Sentinel; Sandra Pedicini; February 5, 2012