A group representing restaurant workers on Tuesday filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Darden Restaurants Inc., parent to The Capital Grille steakhouse chain, claiming race discrimination and wage improprieties.
Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United said in a statement that workers were “fed up over years of low pay and discrimination form profitable restaurant owners.” ROC said it was focusing its complaints against The Capital Grille units in Chicago, New York City and the Washington, D.C., area.
Darden Restaurants of Orlando, Fla., also parent to the Red Lobster, Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse chains, said it will investigate the charges.
“After repeated requests for specifics from ROC, the first response we received is this lawsuit,” said Rich Jeffers, Darden’s director of media relations and external communications. “We continue to believe these allegations are baseless. However, as with any claims of impropriety, we will investigate them thoroughly.”
ROC-United, in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division in Chicago, said it “alleges violations of the Civil Rights Act that are reflective of a corporate-wide policy of racial discrimination and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage and hour laws for wage theft against all workers.”
Jeffers said Darden has received a number of recent honors for its diversity practices, including those from Black Enterprise’s “40 best companies for diversity,” Diversity Inc.’s “Top 50 companies for diversity,” Latina Style’s “Top 50 companies for Hispanic women” and the National Restaurant Association’s “Faces of Diversity Award.”
With ROC-United’s announcement of the lawsuit Tuesday, the organization said it had released a briefing paper on discrimination called “Blacks in the Restaurant Industry. “
“While many Americans have worked at a restaurant at some point in their lives, they don’t realize that there are millions of people who make restaurant jobs their career,” Saru Jayaraman, co-director of ROC United, said in a statement.
“All too often, these workers face poverty wages, no sick leave, and no opportunities for advancement.”
ROC said the U.S. District Court complaint alleges, “Many of the ‘back-of-the-house’ positions (dishwashers, food prep) are given to workers of color, while the more lucrative ‘front-of-the-house’ positions (servers, bartenders) are given to white workers.”
ROC-United said it has more than 9,000 members in nine states.