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Lawry's settles discrimination lawsuit

LOS ANGELES The parent to Lawry’s The Prime Rib has agreed to pay more than $1 million to settle a class-action discrimination lawsuit charging that the company had a tradition of hiring only women as servers, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Monday.

The settlement has yet to be approved by a federal district judge, but the Los Angeles-based company has outlined plans to change its ways and recruit more men into the higher-earning server positions, said Anna Park, the EEOC’s regional attorney in Los Angeles.

The lawsuit, which stemmed from a 2003 complaint by a busboy who said he was denied a job as a server, cited the practice at three of Lawry’s Restaurants Inc.’s brands, including the Tam O’ Shanter Inn, the Five Crowns and the Lawry’s The Prime Rib chain. The company also operates the fast-casual Lawry’s Carvery chain, which was not cited in the EEOC’s lawsuit.

Lawry’s, which is known for its tableside presentation, for decades hired only women to serve food, whereas men were hired as “carvers,” slicing meat on a chrome-domed cart, a role that typically did not earn tips.

Rich Cope, Lawry's director of marketing, said the company stopped the practice of hiring only female servers in 2004. He noted that between 20 percent and 25 percent of servers at the three brands are male, though the number of men waiting tables varies by restaurant.

One challenge, Cope said, was that the company has very low turnover and many servers have been working there for decades.

Park, however, said the recent agreement aims to ensure that policies were in place to change the perception that the company is only interested in women for server jobs.

Under the agreement, the company will pay $500,000 to an unknown number of men deemed to have been denied a server position between 2003 and 2006. Park said potentially hundreds of plaintiffs may be allowed to join in the class action.

The company has agreed to devote another $225,000 toward training to ensure compliance, as well as another $300,000 for advertising the fact that men are welcome to apply for server jobs.

Park said the Lawry’s case is unusual in that it’s usually women who are denied server positions in traditional high-end restaurants. Within the past decade, the EEOC has been involved in such complaints at The Palm steakhouse chain, for example, as well as Joe’s Stone Crab restaurant in Miami.

The parent to the Hooters restaurant chain, however, reportedly in April settled a discrimination complaint filed by a Texas man who said he was denied a server position because of his gender. The settlement agreement in that case was confidential and involved only the franchisee in Corpus Christi, Texas, where the man sought employment.

Parent company Hooters of America has long argued in such cases that its Hooters Girls provide entertainment -- for which equal employment law allows exceptions -- in addition to serving food.

“Forcing Hooters to hire men as waiters,” the company said on its website, “would be like forcing Radio City Music Hall to hire male Rockettes for its famed chorus line.”

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].

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