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Outback Restaurants Taken Out Back to Woodshed by EEOC

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on January 05, 2010 1:05 PM

In a settlement that is the largest to date in the Colorado region, the EEOC announced December 30th, an agreement to settle for $19 million with Outback Stakehouses over claims of sexual discrimination. The Commission's class action suit, originally filed in 2006, contended that female workers were consistently denied promotions to managing partner positions at Outback on the basis of their gender.

Lead plaintiffs Jennifer Turner-Reiger and Kelly Altizer filed discrimination complaints with the EEOC in 2003. Under the rules of the EEOC, individuals who feel they have been discriminated against by their employer may file charges with the Commission. After a complaint is filed, the EEOC will determine if it will sue on the employee's behalf. If it does not, the individual may proceed with a private lawsuit. In the Outback case, the EEOC filed its suit on behalf of the employees in 2006, in U.S. District Court in Denver. According to the Denver Post, the plaintiffs alleged in their court papers that they were informed by a "top official" for Outback that "cute girls" should work as servers and female managers had "let him down" and "lost focus" when they had children. 

Fortunately for Outback's parent company, OSI Restaurant Partners, newly minted chief executive Liz Smith could claim with some credibility that "There is no glass ceiling at OSI, and we do not tolerate discrimination in any form." Nevertheless, OSI has agreed to implement new hiring and human-resource policies and procedures, such as instituting an online application system for managerial and supervisory positions.

However, past policies will cost the stakehouse not only the $650,000 and $300,000 lead plaintiffs Turner-Reiger and Altizer will receive respectively, but an additional amount of up to $100,000 to any of the 20,000 current and former employees of the restaurant who are determined to be eligible members of the class. To qualify, class members must have at least three years' tenure with Outback from 2002 to the present. The amount of the award will be based on an employee's experience, position and claims.

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