Fighting for Women's Equality

Pennsylvania Olive Garden Server Files Charge Against Darden Restaurants, Inc.

January 29, 2015 | by

Press Contacts

Jennifer Reisch, Equal Rights Advocates: jreisch@equalrights.org

Maria Myotte, ROC: maria@roc.org

Ryan Allen Hancock, Willig, Williams & Davidson: rhancock@wwdlaw.com

 

Worker justice advocates filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today against Darden Restaurants, Inc. on behalf of Courtnee Dean, alleging that she was illegally fired from her job at a Philadelphia-area Olive Garden restaurant because she was pregnant.

According to the charge, Dean was disciplined without cause and then terminated without any notice or explanation shortly after she told her supervisor she was expecting a child.

Federal law makes it illegal for employers to terminate workers because of pregnancy. However, pregnancy discrimination is an all-too common and often-overlooked problem in the restaurant industry, which employs millions of women across the country.

San Francisco-based civil rights non-profit Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), in partnership with Restaurant Opportunities Centers-United (ROC), launched the Access to Gender Justice Initiative to expose and combat gender discrimination in restaurants through an innovative combination of high impact legal advocacy, public education, and organizing. Through the Access to Gender Justice Initiative, ERA and ROC are taking aim at the employment practices which deprive pregnant workers of their economic security at a time when they and their families most need it. Today’s filing is part of the national restaurant-workers campaign, Dignity At Darden, to encourage the largest full-service restaurant corporation in the world, Darden Restaurants Inc., to raise wages and improve employment practices. 

“Pregnant women deserve to be treated fairly and equally in the workplace,” said ERA Legal Director Jennifer Reisch. “It is very troubling that after a long and satisfactory employment relationship, Olive Garden chose to fire Ms. Dean so soon after learning that she was pregnant. We hope that Darden is willing to do the right thing by following the law and taking steps to ensure that this type of discrimination doesn’t happen in the future.”

Joining ERA as co-counsel for Dean is the Philadelphia public interest firm of Willig, Williams & Davidson, which has a long history of advocating on behalf of individuals who have suffered discrimination in the workplace.

Dean, a 30-year old woman who is expecting her second child in February, alleges that managers at the Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania Olive Garden put her on a “watch list” of employees suspected of losing customer coupons and then fired her shortly after learning that she was pregnant. At the time she was let go in October 2014, Dean had been working at Olive Garden for more than ten years, and had no prior history of being disciplined for cash- or coupon-handling. Meanwhile, two non-pregnant employees who were placed on the same “watch list” did not get fired. Olive Garden gave Dean no opportunity to contest or inquire into her dismissal prior to terminating her employment when she was just five months pregnant, and still able and willing to work.

“Courtnee is among thousands of Darden employees who want to be treated better at work, and we know her actions today will help empower more Darden employees to join the Dignity At Darden campaign,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of ROC United. “The majority of restaurant workers are women, and unfortunately, they put up with unfair treatment like this all the time. Darden’s particularly bleak track record on these issues drags down the entire restaurant industry. We hope Darden implements the changes necessary to ensure pregnancy discrimination doesn’t happen to any other women.”

 

Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) is a national civil rights organization dedicated to protecting and expanding economic and educational access and opportunities for women and girls.

As the leading national restaurant workers’ advocacy organization, Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United has grown to over 13,000 worker-members across 26 cities in the US, thousands of engaged consumer-members and hundreds of high-road employers across the country. ROC has won 15 worker-led campaigns, totaling $8 million in stolen tips and wages. 

Willig, Williams & Davidson is one of the largest and most respected union-side labor law firms in the United States. Founded in 1979, the firm focuses on representing labor unions, employee benefit funds, individual working people and their families.

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