A phone call this morning from an Orlando reporter alerted us to charges of racial discrimination at The Capital Grilles in Chicago, New York, and Maryland. What did we know about it, the reporter asked.
Sadly, not much. It turns out, however, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a union for restaurant workers, filed a class-action lawsuit against Capital Grille parent Darden Restaurants early this week.
The reporter emailed us the 62-page complaint, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
As many already know, Darden’s Chairman and CEO Clarence Otis, Jr. is African-American and has worked for the casual-dining company since 1995. The company announced it would investigate the charges thoroughly, although it believes them to be baseless.
According to the complaint, African-American and other non-white servers at the upscale steakhouse chain say they were typically assigned to “less desirable” table sections and had fewer server assistants assigned to them, resulting in fewer tips than white servers in better sections.
The employees also charge they suffered disciplinary action and were frequently fired “because they did not fit the Capital Grille image.” (A cursory search of Google Images using “Capital Grille server” showed mostly white people in server uniforms.)
Not surprisingly, Restaurant Opportunities Center’s website says ”we work to demonstrate public consequences for employers that take the ‘low-road’ to profitability.”
Darden’s website boasts the company embraces cultural diversity and has been widely recognized for such; it also includes at least one story about a person of color who rose through he ranks at Capital Grille:
Souni Felipa – In Pursuit of a Career Dream
Souni started as a server at The Capital Grille in Miami, but soon took advantage of the company’s career advancement opportunities. After impressing a supervisor with his serving skills, knowledge, and passion, he was promoted to an in-restaurant training position. Today, he is a Lead Server Trainer.
The lawsuit also alleges employee-wage theft in violation of federal and state laws. Here are the specific charges:
– requiring tipped employees to contribute to the wages of non-tipped employees;
– retaining a portion of tips intended for service staff for private parties;
– requiring tipped employees to perform non-tipped work for less than the minimum wage and
– requiring employees to work “off-the-clock” and without pay before and after their assigned shifts.
– In addition, Plaintiffs bring class state law claims under Illinois, Maryland and New York laws for Defendants’ requirement that all of their employees be paid paperlessly, either through direct deposit or a Darden or other pay card, thereby incurring fees to receive their wages and failing to provide its employees with an itemization of their wages and deductions.
– The New York Plaintiffs also bring class action claims under the laws of New York for Defendants’ failure to pay “spread of hours” pay on days they were required to work in excess of ten (10) hours.