Law360: Darden Restaurant Inc.'s Seasons 52 has agreed to pay nearly $3 million and take additional measures to eliminate age bias at its restaurants to end a Florida federal court suit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging the restaurant chain discriminates against job applicants older than 40.
The EEOC and GMRI Inc., the Darden chain that operates Seasons 52 eateries, asked U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard to green-light a consent decree that would put to rest the agency's suit alleging that the restaurant chain violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by failing to hire older workers.
In addition to paying $2.85 million, the restaurant will adopt a series of remedial measures to combat age discrimination. The agreement says that Fred W. Alvarez, an attorney at Jones Day, will be tapped to serve as an independent monitor to make sure the company is in compliance with the decree for the three years the agreement is in effect. Alvarez has previously served as an assistant Secretary of Labor, as well as a former EEOC commissioner during the Reagan administration.
"In the interest of resolving this matter, and to avoid further cost of litigation, and as a result of having engaged in comprehensive settlement negotiations, the parties have agreed that this action should be finally resolved by entry of this decree," the court filing said.
The settlement included no admission of liability by Seasons 52, which denied the EEOC's allegations that it violated the ADEA.
The EEOC initially filed its complaint in February 2015, alleging that Darden — the parent company of Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Yard House and other restaurant chains — had a pattern or practice of failing to hire applicants older than 40 for front-of-the-house positions like servers and bartenders, as well as back-of-the-house jobs at nearly three dozen Seasons 52 restaurants nationwide.
The complaint said Seasons 52 hiring practices dating from the present to 2010 were in violation of the ADEA. The suit was later trimmed to name just GMRI as a defendant.
Among the provisions included in the consent decree, Seasons 52 can't post job advertisements that either explicitly or implicitly express an age preference for applicants, must instruct managers and third-party vendors to include equal employment opportunity language in all job ads, and can't retaliate against individuals who oppose a hiring practice that is unlawful under the ADEA or file an age discrimination charge.
Seasons 52 is also required as part of the deal to appoint an internal compliance monitor to oversee the company's administrative responsibilities under the agreement and receive and investigate any hiring complaints, provide various forms of anti-discrimination training to managers and staff, and publicly tout an age-diverse workforce, including posting pictures of age-diverse staff on social media, among other things.
Seasons 52 spokesman Hunter Robinson issued a statement Wednesday saying the restaurant chain is "pleased to resolve this EEOC matter."
"Putting this behind us is good for Seasons 52, good for our team members and good for our shareholders," Robinson said.
The EEOC declined to comment.
The EEOC is represented in-house by Kristen M. Foslid, Beatriz Biscardi Andre, Daniel Seltzer, Ana C. Martinez, Kimberly Anne McCoy and Robert Weisberg.
GMRI is represented by Gerald L. Maatman Jr., Alex Drummond, Andrew Scroggins and Jennifer A. Riley of Seyfarth Shaw LLP, and Michael C. Marsh and Arlene K. Kline of Akerman LLP.
The suit is Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. GMRI Inc., suit number 1:15-cv-20561, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
By Vin Gurrieri
May 2, 2018
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