At Outback Steakhouse, EEOC sex discrimination deal starts 2010 with clean slate
Wake up and good morning. Happy New Year to all now that I am back to chilly Tampa Bay from roaming a much colder New York City this past week. Here's to an economic revival (modest though it may be) in 2010 and setting a solid stage for stronger times ahead.
In the most basic of business news, what caught my eye most upon my return was the last-moment 2009 $19 million discrimination class action settlement by Tampa's OSI Restaurant Partners, the parent of the Outback Steakhouse chain and other restaurant brands, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The photo above shows (left to right) EEOC Denver trial attorney Stephanie Struble with two class members -- Rosalind Martinez and Mindy Byers -- who as Outback employees claimed corporate promotions were tainted by sex discrimination.
Here's the St. Petersburg Times news coverage of the settlement (in which OSI is deemed not to be at fault, and the company said it chose to settle to end ongoing litigation costs). And here is the EEOC's press release. OSI did not issue a news release but agreed to implement new hiring and human-resource policies and procedures, such as instituting an online application system for managerial and supervisory positions. In a statement, OSI said that settling the case with "funds provided entirely by insurance was preferable to the cost and distraction of further litigation."
The original claims of discrimination arose at Outbacks in the Colorado area. According to the Denver Post, the case's lead plaintiffs, Jennifer Turner-Reiger and Kelly Altizer, lodged complaints with the EEOC in 2003. The EEOC filed a lawsuit against Outback in 2006 in U.S. District Court in Denver.
Among the allegations, the Post reported, were that a top Outback official told employees that "cute girls" should work as servers and female managers had "let him down" and "lost focus" when they had children, according to court documents. Turner-Reiger will receive $650,000 and Altizer $300,000 from the settlement, said their attorney, Lynn Feiger. More than 20,000 current and former female employees at Outback restaurants nationwide could be eligible for awards of up to $100,000 as part of the class.
The $19 million in monetary relief contained in the settlement will be administered through a claims process in which an administrator will send letters to all female workers employed at corporately-owned Outback restaurants from 2002 to the present who have at least three years of tenure.
It's a good outcome for both sides and hopefully a clean slate for OSI/Outback to start the new year. It is, of course, especially, meaningful now that OSI's brand new chairman and CEO, Liz Smith (in photo), is at the helm. Might this settlement been one of her first acts in moving this company forward?
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist