The EEOC has 254 potential witnesses which they expect to testify about an alleged pattern of age discrimination in hiring at Darden Restaurants Seasons 52 across the United States.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is asking the Court to move ahead with the November 27 trial date in the case, originally filed in February 2015. The case is related to allegations that Seasons 52 in Coral Gables discriminated against two male applicants. After investigating the allegations at the Coral Gables location the case expanded to other Seasons 52 Restaurants across the United States.
Darden argued against the November 27 trial date, citing possible logistical issues because of holiday-season business levels. Even though many of the witnesses were not hired by Darden, they still work in the restaurant industry, which Darden claims is busiest from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.
“During this time, many witnesses for both parties will have limited or no availability. Furthermore, even witnesses who can be available may be forced to take time off of work during a period when they typically earn more money and need it most to pay for holiday expenses,” Darden’s stated in support of its motion to the court.
The EEOC has been unrelenting in its pursuit of extinguishing discrimination in the workplace even after the Trump Administration took charge in January. The commission held a hearing June 14 marking the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. At that event, it heard from experts who said age bias in the workplace was persistent.
“With so many more people working and living longer, we can’t afford to allow age discrimination to waste the knowledge, skills, and talent of older workers,” acting EEOC Chair Victoria A. Lipnic said in a recent announcement.
In the Darden case, the EEOC contacted and interviewed hundreds of people who are over 40 and who applied for jobs at Seasons 52. A year ago, the EEOC said it had 151 people who claimed they were not hired because of their age. With the new number at 254, Darden will have a more difficult time arguing that the discrimination was isolated or non-existent.
“Darden is going to argue, just because some older workers weren’t hired doesn’t mean there’s a companywide policy,” said Lowell J. Kuvin, a Miami attorney who represents the two original servers. “The EEOC will have to show there was a company wide pattern and policy, and that the policy was used to discriminate against workers over the age of 40 in order for the EEOC to succeed.” Even if Darden successfully argues there was not a companywide policy throughout the United States, the lawsuit may get divided into smaller more local lawsuits such as what happened in the Wal-Mart female manager discrimination class action.
The EEOC’s initial complaint in the lawsuit alleged that Seasons 52 didn't hire two well qualified servers who applied for a position at the Coral Gables Seasons 52 location, Anthony Scornavacca, then 52, and Hugo Alfaro, then 50, because of their age.
The EEOC took more than two (2) years to investigate the allegations made by the Claimants, and entailed reviewing hundreds of applications for employment from Seasons 52 restaurants through the United States.
Darden has fought the allegations at every turn of the case. A Darden spokesman has maintained that “we remain confident that our hiring practices are compliant with all applicable regulations."
Darden is Orlando's only Fortune 500 company and has 150,000 workers at 1,500 restaurants nationwide.