Multiple workers at an Olive Garden in New York City have filed charges of race- and gender-based discrimination against Darden Restaurants, Inc. at the state’s Human Rights Division and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The company denies all of the allegations.
In complaint documents obtained by PEOPLE, Adam Jones, self-described as "an African-American, gay man" who lives in the Bronx, alleges that he has witnessed racial discrimination and a "hostile work environment" at the Times Square Olive Garden dating back to September 2008, when he began working at the Italian chain restaurant.
As a result of himself and other Black employees allegedly receiving "less in tips from customers based on our race as Black servers," Jones, 43, says that "Darden's policy of paying the sub-minimum tipped wage has a disparate impact on me and similarly situated servers."
Jones goes on to allege that he and his Black coworkers "are consistently denied the preferential treatmentgranted to non-Black workers," such as the ability to switch among job titles, more desirable work shifts, being assigned as servers to the "best tables" and more.
After he raised concerns to a manager "in or around November" of least year, Jones says "some of these issues began to change" but others continued until this past March, when he was furloughed due to the COVID-19 crisis.
"In or around September 30, 2020, the restaurant began selecting some people to return to work once the restaurant was allowed to run at a limited capacity," Jones writes, alleging, "Who was chosen to return to work was not based on seniority or experience. Only a few Black workers were selected to return."
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In a statement to PEOPLE, a representative for Darden Restaurants claims these are "baseless" allegations.
"Darden is a values-based company built on a culture of integrity and fairness, respect and caring, and a longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion," they said. "We have an industry-leading team member experience. Across our brands, tipped team members earn, on average, more than $20 per hour. We have one of the lowest hourly turnover rates in the industry — 50% better than the industry average."
"Moreover, since the pandemic began, Darden has invested more than $100 million in our team members, including permanent paid sick leave for all hourly team members and an emergency pay program that provides pay for our hourly team members who cannot work when our dining rooms are closed,” the statement concluded.
Another worker — Chanta Hunter, a Black mother based out of Brooklyn — alleges she is the "only Black woman bartender" at the restaurant, which she says has been the case since she began working there in 2006.
Aside from also touching on the tipping issue, Hunter, 38, alleges that one of her managers "will only choose white women to become bartender trainers," despite her years of experience, accolades and having regularly sought out the position "since October 2010," she says in the filing.
"Even when a white woman who was made a bartender trainer wanted out of the position and I volunteered to take on the role, [my manager] refused to promote me," Hunter alleges. "Each time [he] said I was 'abrasive' and did not fit the 'mold' for a trainer."
She goes on to allege that the same manager "refused to allow [her] to take even short breaks" when she was pregnant and working. "This sex discrimination based on pregnancy and my status as a woman with a family has
continued up until this year," Hunter says in the filing. "I was recently denied the opportunity to return to work due to my family status."
Other employees at the restaurant who have filed similar complaints against Darden based on race, sex and more include Luna St. Furcy, a Caribbean-American server, and Kevin Absolam, a Black food expediter and line cook.
To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:
- Campaign Zero works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
- ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
- National Cares Mentoring Movement provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.
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