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Group sues Darden Restaurants, claiming tipped minimum wage brings harassment, discrimination

Austin Fuller, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Business News

An organization that wants to eliminate the tipped minimum wage is suing Orlando-based Darden Restaurants, arguing the tipped wage increases sexual harassment and creates a gap in wages between employees of color and white employees.

One Fair Wage filed the lawsuit Thursday in the U.S. Northern District Court of California.

The group filed an EEOC complaint last year against Darden making a similar argument. The lawsuit states the EEOC dismissed the charge at the request of One Fair Wage and issued it a right to sue notice.

Darden, which has more than 1,820 restaurants including Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and other chains, said in a statement the lawsuit “is not about Darden.”

“The complaint makes clear that their objections are with federal and state wage laws – not with our practice,” the statement said. “We have zero tolerance for any form of harassment or discrimination in our restaurants, and we have strong policies in place to ensure our team members are treated with respect and feel safe and valued at work.”

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, but for tipped workers it is $2.13 an hour. Florida’s minimum wage is $8.65 per hour, and its tipped minimum wage is $5.63.

The lawsuit cites EEOC complaints that allege sexual harassment or that Darden employees of color made less in tips.

 

One former Darden server claimed she experienced frequent sexual harassment from customers, and that coworkers inappropriately touched her, according to the lawsuit. Another former employee, who is Latina, alleged she was “consistently assigned to sections of the restaurant known to generate less in tips, which management referred to as ‘Section 8’ or ‘my low-income world,’” the lawsuit says.

“Darden’s wage policies result in increased sexual harassment of workers and disparate wages for workers across racial groups,” the lawsuit said. “These effects violate the prohibitions on workplace discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

Darden’s statement says its tipped employees earn more than $20 per hour on average.

The company recently committed to ensuring all of its hourly restaurant employees make at least $10 per hour, a figure that includes tips, and plans to raise that to $11 per hour in 2022 and $12 in 2023.

The lawsuit also claims One Fair Wage has paid $500 per employee to more than 350 Darden employees affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said the company has paid more than $85 million in emergency pay to workers. The company’s emergency pay program began last spring and returned late last year to provide three weeks of emergency pay to workers furloughed from restaurants where dining rooms are closed.

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