A group seeking higher wages for restaurant workers filed a lawsuit against Darden Restaurants, which is the parent company for Olive Gardens, Longhorn Steakhouse and other restaurant chains. The company owns 1,800 restaurants in the United States and Canada, employing 167,000 hourly staff.
Filed in the Northern District of California by the group One Fair Wage, the suit alleges that the company’s policy of paying minimum wage for tipped workers (as low as $2.13 in some states) forces staff to put up with harassment and discrimination. The tips are accounted for and counted against the state’s minimum wage. The company is obligated to pay a deficit if the employee does not earn state and federal minimum wages with tips. This policy reflects laws in 43 states that tipped employees need not get paid minimum wage because tips often make up the bulk of their income.
A violation of Title VII
The lawsuit argues that it is a violation of workers’ Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which guarantees protection against discrimination and racism. One Fare Wage argues that tipped employees face this to earn their wages. OFW adds that restaurants are also the most common workplace setting for reports of sexual harassment. With women making up 70% of restaurants’ tipped staff, servers and bartenders face harassment from managers, fellow staff and the customers.
“The racism and discrimination is so vast in my restaurant,” said Ptorsha Cozart to ABC News. Ptorsha, who is Black and works at a Cheddar Scratch Kitchen in Kenosha, Wisconsin, said that customers sometimes requested a white server. Others asked her to pull down her mask so they can decide if she’s attractive enough to tip her.
Looking for a landmark ruling
OFW picked Darden to file its lawsuit against because it is one of the largest employers of tipped staff in the country. A favorable ruling in this lawsuit could impact the restaurant industry, forcing changes to work conditions and pay structures.