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Fair wage NGO sues Olive Garden parent company over low wages

Fair wage NGO sues Olive Garden parent company over low wages

16.04.2021 | Valeria Negron | U. Pittsburgh School of Law, US APRIL 16, 2021 08:21:27 AM | 42

One Fair Wage (OFW) filed suit Thursday against Darden, the parent company of the Olive Garden and Longhorn restaurant chains, over its low wages. OFW says that the $2.13/hour tipped wages Darden pays its employees leads to harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

OFW says the company could prevent employment discrimination given there is no business necessity justification for paying such low wages. OFW acknowledges that subminimum wages are allowed under federal law but they see no justifiable reason, other than saving money, to pay less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour.

The suit points to empirical and anecdotal data from Darden employees, which shows that “the subminimum wage is the direct cause of, or at least a motivating factor in, a documented increase in sexual harassment.” Additionally, “Darden’s tipping policy has led directly to or was at least a motivating factor in, tipped employees of color being paid less in tips than tipped white employees” because customers pay its employees’ wages and may bring their biases and feelings into the amount they tip certain servers.

The complaint also details routine sexual harassment such as, “[a] married kitchen manager described almost daily, in great detail, what he’d like to do to me if we were ever alone” and “[a]s a bartender it’s just part of the job, many customers make sexualized comments.” In contrast, employees paid the federal minimum wage reported fewer instances of sexual harassment.

Employees of color, such as Pam Araiza, consistently reported being “assigned to sections of the restaurant known to generate less in tips, which management referred to as ‘Section 8’ or ‘my low-income world.'” Since managers are allowed to assign workers to certain shifts they can force employees of color to receive lower payment.

OFW is seeking damages in the form of a preliminary injunction to prevent Darden from continuing its discriminatory policies, as well as any equitable money damages that the court believes are fair for sexual harassment and race discrimination.

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