Fighting for Women's Equality

Charges Filed Against Darden Restaurants In New Case

August 17, 2015 | by

Equal Rights Advocates filed charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Darden Restaurants, Inc. on behalf of two female restaurant workers who allege that they and other female employees of the Capital Grill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have been subjected to sexual harassment, discriminatory pay practices, and retaliation for complaining about these conditions.

In their charges, the workers allege that customers at the Capital Grille, on whom they rely for tips (which comprise the majority of their earnings), have engaged in offensive, unwelcome conduct towards them and other women service workers, such as showing them nude photographs and discussing sexual acts. On one occasion, a customer even lifted his pant leg to show one of the women that he had a dildo taped to his leg. The charges also allege that some male staff members have participated in and/or condoned sexual harassment, which has included inappropriate touching.

In addition to these harassment allegations, the EEOC charges describe practices of assigning women more unpaid work, passing them over for more lucrative assignments and opportunities, and retaliating against employees who complain about these and other unlawful conditions. 

“Unfortunately, the experiences of our clients and other women working at The Capital Grille are all too common,” said ERA Legal Director Jennifer Reisch. “Sexual harassment and gender discrimination are major problems in the restaurant industry and they are exacerbated by the tipped minimum wage. By forcing tipped workers, the majority of whom are women, to rely on customers’ tips for most of their income, far too many have to endure persistent harassment in order to make ends meet.”

The charges being brought against Darden Restaurants are the latest in ERA’s Access to Gender Justice Project, which was launched in 2013 in collaboration with Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) to expose and combat gender discrimination in restaurant industry through an innovative combination of high impact legal advocacy, public education, and organizing.  In conjunction with ROC’s One Fair Wage campaign, ERA seeks to support efforts to abolish the tipped minimum wage for restaurant workers, which in many states is as low as $2.13 per hour. (To learn more about the fight for gender justice in the restaurant industry and support the One Fair Wage campaign, visit ROC’s website.)

As the charges filed today make clear, the tipped minimum wage not only makes restaurant workers more vulnerable to workplace sexual harassment, but also to retaliation when they find the courage to speak up about the problem: when a worker’s income depends so heavily on tips, a simple change to her shift or station assignment could lead to a significant drop in earnings and even force her to leave the restaurant in order to find a more lucrative job.

 

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