* Lawsuit to focus on Darden's high-end Capital Grille chain
* Will allege racial discrimination and wage violations
* Darden says company proud of its work environment
By Lisa Baertlein
Jan 30 A restaurant workers group said it
will sue Darden Restaurants Inc in federal court in
Chicago on Tuesday, accusing the company's high-end Capital
Grille steakhouse chain of racial discrimination and violations
of state and federal labor laws.
The action will pit Restaurant Opportunities Centers United
(ROC), a vocal advocate on industry wages and working
conditions, against one of the largest and most respected U.S.
The lawsuit will charge that white workers have lucrative
"front-of-house" positions such as waiter or bartender, while
many lower paying "back-of-the-house" jobs like washing dishes
or preparing food are given to people of color, said ROC, which
will bring the lawsuit on behalf of members who are Capital
Grille employees in Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C.
The complaint also will allege that Capital Grille forced
employees to work without pay, did not provide rest breaks to
workers and forced tipped employees to share their tips with
non-tipped workers, ROC said.
"Restaurant workers deserve a living wage and to be treated
with dignity," said Daisy Chung, co-director of ROC of New York.
Darden spokesman Rich Jeffers said the company repeatedly
has asked ROC for details about the allegations and that it has
received no response.
"If they have something specific, we want to look into it,"
said Jeffers, who added that Darden employees have multiple
channels for filing grievances against the company.
Darden is the nation's largest full-service restaurant
operator, with more than 1,900 outlets and about 179,000
employees in the United States and Canada.
Best known for its Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains, it
is considered to be one of the country's best-run restaurant
companies. It also is one of the few large U.S. corporations led
by a chief executive who is a minority.
Darden's roughly 45 Capital Grille steakhouses are the most
upscale eateries in the company's portfolio.
"Darden Restaurants is very proud of the work environment
that it creates for employees," said Jeffers, who added that the
Orlando-based company made Fortune magazine's list of "100 best
companies to work for" in 2011 and 2012.
Restaurant workers account for nearly one in 12 U.S. private
sector employees, according to ROC, which says its mission is to
improve compensation and working conditions for low-wage
Lawsuits over wages are not uncommon in the U.S. restaurant
industry. ROC, which organizes workers but is not a union, has
sued and picketed numerous restaurants as part of its advocacy
Most notably, it recently has been involved in a
high-profile legal skirmish with celebrity chef Mario Batali,
whose restaurants include Del Posto in New York City and
Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles.