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Judge delays damages in restaurant bias

The tab hasn't been added up yet for Joe's Stone Crab.

After two days of closing arguments finishing a 10-day trial, federal Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley said Tuesday he couldn't immediately determine damages in the high-profile discrimination case.

Hurley, however, showed his clear support for the legal battle that has lasted seven years and pitted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against a small, woman-owned business that Hurley said has fought discrimination against minorities.

"Having said that, it is very clear to me that but for this lawsuit, there would not be female food servers at Joe's Stone Crab," he said.

The EEOC is seeking $950,000 in back pay plus interest for five women who said they were denied jobs. It also wants a five-year injunction that would govern hiring, advertising and staff training.

The judge in July found Joe's, one of the nation's top 10 grossing restaurants, inadvertently discriminated against women in hiring.

The judge said last week he planned to rule immediately after the penalty phase of the trial ended. His reversal came after hours of complicated legal arguments about how to compute back pay plus interest and other issues. He did not indicate when he would issue his written ruling.

Whatever award is made, Joe's owner Jo Ann Bass tearfully vowed to keep up her fight against what she says is unfair government intrusion. She has spent more than $1-million to defend the landmark Miami Beach restaurant founded by her grandfather.

Joe's hired 108 men, but no women, from 1986 to 1991. Joe's had no waitresses when the EEOC filed its complaint in 1991, but upon learning of the complaint, the restaurant made efforts to diversify its work force. There are now 18 women on its serving staff of 79.

_ Information from Associated Press was used in this report.