Last week, as part of a campaign called “Dignity at Darden,” workers in New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago announced that they have filed a class action lawsuit against Darden Restaurants for discrimination and wage theft at Capital Grille restaurants in those cities.
According to the lawsuit, the workers accuse Darden of violating the Civil Rights Act and believe it’s a reflection of a corporate-wide policy of racial discrimination. They have also accused Darden of violating the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act and state wage and hour laws for all employees.
Darden is the largest full-service casual dining company in the world.
Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, coinciding with the release of a new study by the organization called “Blacks in the Restaurant Industry,” which chronicles racial discrimination worldwide.
“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,” said ROC United Co-Director Saru Jayaraman in a release. “All too often, these workers face poverty wages, no sick leave and no opportunities for advancement. With more than 10 million families relying on restaurant work to make ends meet, we need restaurants to provide good jobs that can support families, strengthen our communities and help give our recovering economy the lift it needs.”
According to the lawsuit, so-called “back-of-house” positions like dishwashers and food preparers were given to workers of color and “front-of-house” position like servers and bartenders were given to white workers.
ROC United said this is a reflection of their conclusions from the study, which states that 58 percent of Black restaurant workers are confined to the low-wage “quick serve” segment of the industry, while only 26 percent of white workers are on the same plane. The higher wage part of the industry, fine dining servers, is four times more likely to be white than Black. According to ROC United, 95 percent of bussers are people of color.
As a result of all of this, Black restaurant employees earn on average $4 less per hour than whites.
“Whether it’s working with employers who embrace ‘high road’ practices and encouraging other restaurants to do the same thing or holding accountable ‘low road’ employers like Darden’s Capital Grille, we are sending a message through this campaign that restaurant workers deserve a living wage and to be treated with dignity,” said Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York Co-Director Daisy Chung.
Racial discrimination isn’t the only thing cited in the lawsuit. Darden Restaurants is also accused of forcing employees to work without pay and without breaks and forcing tipped workers to share their tips with non-tipped workers.
But former Darden spokesperson Rick Van Warner told Orlando Sentinel reporter Sandra Pelicini that the workers have a hard road ahead of them, considering that Darden’s reputation is one that promotes diversity; their chairman and CEO, Clarence Otis Jr., is Black and the company has a history of promoting minority workers to managerial positions.
“Darden’s probably got the best reputation for diversity…in the industry,” said Warner.