Group challenging Darden's tipping policies says any 'aggrieved' party can sue

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  • Group says workplace bias claims don't need to be brought by employees, lawsuit is for the public good
  • Darden accused of enabling sex, race bias by forcing workers to rely on tips
  • Group says workers also hobbled by arbitration pacts

(Reuters) - A worker advocacy group told a U.S. appeals court on Friday that it does not have to be an employee of Darden Restaurants Inc to bring a lawsuit claiming the company enables sex and race discrimination by paying low hourly wages to tipped workers.

One Fair Wage (OFW) said in a brief filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that federal law permits anyone "aggrieved" by workplace discrimination to sue, and that its case against Darden was meant to vindicate the public interest.

OFW advocates for the elimination of the $2.13 federal minimum wage for tipped workers and comparable state laws.

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Darden, which operates eight restaurant chains including the Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and the Capital Grille, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A San Francisco federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in September, saying OFW had no standing to bring claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it is not an employee of the company.

But OFW on Friday said that because Darden requires restaurant workers to sign agreements requiring arbitration of legal disputes and barring class-action lawsuits, it would be impossible for any employee of the company to bring broad claims of discrimination.

OFW in the lawsuit filed last April said Darden directs restaurants to pay workers the tipped minimum wage. But forcing employees to rely on tips has a disparate impact on women and minorities because they are routinely tipped less, OFW said, and requires them to endure harassment by customers and coworkers.

The case is One Fair Wage Inc v. Darden Restaurants Inc, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 21-16691.

For One Fair Wage: Jason Harrow of Gerstein Harrow; Ryan Nelson of South Texas College of Law Houston

For Darden: Christopher Braham of McDermott Will & Emery

Read more:

Advocacy group can't sue over low pay for nonwhite, female Darden workers

Darden accused of sex, race bias for relying on tips to meet minimum wage obligations

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Dan Wiessner (@danwiessner) reports on labor and employment and immigration law, including litigation and policy making. He can be reached at daniel.wiessner@thomsonreuters.com.