Seasons 52, a division of Darden Restaurants (Olive Garden), agreed to pay $2.8 million and abide by a consent decree to settle a large age discrimination claim. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, restaurant managers rejected older female applicants in favor of people who were “younger and fresher.” The bar-and-grill chain also rejected older male applicants because they were “old white guys.”
Last year, Texas Roadhouse agreed to pay $12 million to settle a similar action. In that case, again according to the EEOC, managers placed yellow sticky notes on applications with comments like “old n’ chubby” and “little old lady.”
Both restaurant chains denied wrongdoing and characterized the settlements as business decisions.
The Olive Garden and Texas Roadhouse settlements are noteworthy not only for their dollar amounts. They are also significant simply because they are age discrimination claims. The EEOC has shied away from such cases since 2009. That was the year the United States Supreme Court handed down Gross v. FBL Financial Services. In that decision, the Court ruled that age discrimination plaintiffs must prove that age was the primary factor in the decision as opposed to a substantial factor.
One issue may be that government investigators have little incentive to pursue challenging cases. It is much easier to move up the ladder by cases perceived as “slam dunks” that settle quickly. But an attorney is different because a lawyer fights for you.
Sometimes, it is difficult to get an age discrimination case off the ground. Many job applicants apply online. As a result, they have absolutely no way of knowing why their applications are rejected. If the company responds to such inquiries at all, it will definitely not confess to any wrongdoing.
An attorney helps here as well. If a particular employer rejects one or two qualified over-40 applicants, there may be nothing there. But if an employer rejects eight or ten qualified over-40 applicants, a Columbus judge may be more likely to allow a case to move forward to a stage of litigation called discovery. The discovery process allows plaintiffs to obtain additional information from an employer to flesh out their claims. Many cases settle during this process. Often, companies do not want to spend the money required to go to trial and do not want to risk liability exposure.
In most other ways, an age discrimination claim is a standard Title VII claim. So, a lawyer can use proven methods to develop your particular claim. The elements in a Title VII claim are:
Sometimes, there is direct evidence of age discrimination. Such evidence often comes to light during discovery. Often, however, the evidence is circumstantial.
Employers have a number of defenses. One of the most common is the business necessity defense. For example, an employer could argue that it discharged over-40 workers, not because of their age but because they made too much money. The plaintiff must then prove that the “defense” was really a pretext for discrimination.
Victory in your age discrimination claim largely depends on prompt and decisive action. For a free consultation with an experienced employment discrimination attorney in Columbus, contact Marshall Forman & Schlein LLC.
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