Restaurant Chain Accused of Age Discrimination in EEOC Lawsuit

A nationwide restaurant chain has engaged in a widespread pattern of discrimination against older employees and job seekers, according to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The suit, filed in a Boston federal district court on October 3, 2011, alleges that Texas Roadhouse restaurants violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by favoring younger employees and applicants for service positions such as host, bartender, or waiter. The Kentucky-based company operates over 350 restaurants in 46 states, including eight in upstate New York and one in East Meadow, Long Island.

According to the EEOC’s complaint, the restaurant chain denied jobs to applicants over the age of 40 because it was “looking for people on the younger side.” Older job applicants reported a number of often-harsh refusals from managers at restaurant locations, including a statement that the restaurant needed “the young, hot ones who are chipper and stuff.” Training materials included with the complaint purportedly show a policy to favor younger individuals in hiring decisions. The EEOC’s Boston office began the investigation and claims to have uncovered a nationwide hiring pattern discriminating against older applicants going back to at least 2007. Only 1.9 percent of the company’s employees holding service and front-of-the-house positions are in the over-40 age group, according to the lawsuit. This is allegedly far below the overall percentage for that group in similar positions in other large restaurant chains.

The EEOC bases its lawsuit on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, a federal statute that prohibits discrimination against people aged 40 or older. It forbids discrimination based solely on age in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, layoffs, promotions, and assignment of job duties. The statute also prohibits harassment in the workplace based on age. This encompasses any conduct that create an offensive or hostile work environment or contributes to a negative employment consequence, such as impeding an older worker’s job performance to the point that they get fired. Employment policies that disproportionately and unreasonably impact older workers are prohibited by the law, even if the policies have no discriminatory intent. The person or people doing the alleged discriminating or harassing do not have to be younger than 40 for the statute to apply.

The statute does not protect workers younger than 40, so it does not violate this particular law for an employer to favor an older employee over a younger one. This is because there are presumably more justifiable reasons to favor an older employee in certain job duties, and there is little to no historical pattern of unlawful discrimination against the young by the old.

Older New Yorkers have comparable protections against employment discrimination under both state and municipal law. The New York State Division of Human Rights enforces the state’s Human Rights Law, which prohibits “discrimination in employment…based on age.” The New York City Commission on Human Rights enforces the New York City Human Rights Law, which offers similar protection for workers in the city.

New York employment discrimination law firm Phillips & Associates represents the rights of employees and job seekers who face discrimination based on their age. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact the firm today.

Web Resources:

Age Discrimination summary, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
New York State Division of Human Rights home page
New York City Commission on Human Rights home page
More Blog Posts:

Kohl’s Faces Claim of Employment Discrimination Based on Medical Condition, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 27, 2011

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