By Kathleen J. Jennings
Last week, we talked about a case where age discrimination was an issue in an employee termination. This week, we bring you news of a significant settlement of a case which involved age discrimination in hiring.
Seasons 52, a national, Orlando-based restaurant chain and part of the Darden family of restaurants, will pay $2.85 million and provide significant equitable relief to settle a nationwide class age discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency announced on May 3.
The EEOC’s lawsuit sought relief for applicants age 40 and older that had been denied front-of-the-house and back-of-the-house positions at 35 Seasons 52 restaurants around the country. During the course of the litigation, over 135 applicants provided sworn testimony that Seasons 52 managers asked them their age or made age-related comments during their interviews, including: “Seasons 52 girls are younger and fresh,” “Most of the workers are younger,” “Seasons 52 hires young people,” or “We are really looking for someone younger.” The company also hired applicants age 40 and older at a significantly lower rate than applicants under the age of 40. Considering the comments made by the managers, that is not a very surprising result.
The consent decree resolving the case sets up a claims process that will identify and compensate those affected individuals age 40 and older who applied to Seasons 52 for a front-of-the-house or back-of-the-house positions at 35 Seasons 52 restaurants but were denied a position on the basis of age.
In addition to the monetary relief, the decree requires significant changes to Seasons 52’s recruitment and hiring processes. It also includes an injunction preventing Seasons 52 from discriminating on the basis of age in the future and requires the company to pay for a decree compliance monitor, who is charged with ensuring that the company does not discriminate further and complies with the decree’s terms.
“As we commemorate May as Older Americans Month, we should be mindful that age discrimination continues to keep too many older, experienced American workers out of the workforce – many of whom are not working as a matter of choice, but as a matter of need,” said EEOC Acting Chair Victoria A. Lipnic.
Pro tip: As this case demonstrates, hiring managers need to focus on the requirements for the job and an applicant’s ability or inability to meet those requirements, and not the applicant’s relative youth or freshness.
Kathleen Jennings, Principal is a principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. She defends employers in sexual harassment and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
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