Service industry workers in Florida may experience age discrimination

The EEOC is alleging that the Seasons 52 restaurant chain engaged in a pattern of discrimination against older applicants

The workforce in some industries skews younger. In the service industry, many bartenders, servers, hosts and chefs tend to be under 40.

Yet many older employees are fully capable of meeting the demands of service positions. If an employer refuses to hire applicants over the age of 40 based only on age, that employer is violating state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Restaurants, bars and hotels which do discriminate may be held legally liable to pay for the damages their discriminatory policies have on applicants and employees.

Employees who file an age discrimination lawsuit may recover lost wages, back pay and reinstatement to a position.

EEOC suing large Florida-based restaurant chain

Service industry workers have legal rights, although age discrimination remains a problem in the state. As an example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, recently filed a lawsuit against Florida restaurant company Darden Restaurants, Inc.

Darden Restaurants is one of the world's largest full-service restaurant companies, and includes such well-known chains as Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze and Eddie V's.

The EEOC brought a claim earlier this year alleging the Orlando-based restaurant giant discriminated against older applicants. The EEOC brought the claim under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, alleging that the chain engaged in a "pattern or practice" of discrimination. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the U.S. Department of Justice can bring lawsuits that allege an employer has a workplace policy that violates federal law.

"Pattern or practice" lawsuits involve company-wide behavior or employment policies that are a regular practice of the company, not just one or two isolated incidences.

EEOC can bring pattern or practice claims for age discrimination

In this case, there was some question as to whether the EEOC could actually bring a pattern or practice claim against Darden Restaurants. Age is not a protected class under Title VII, which specifically authorizes the EEOC to bring pattern or practice claims. However, a District Court in Florida recently held that it was possible for the EEOC to bring a pattern or practice claim under the ADEA.

What can applicants and employees do to protect themselves?

The result of the EEOC's claim against Darden Restaurants remains in question. However, any applicant or employee who has experienced age discrimination has legal rights under state and federal law. If you have experienced age discrimination in the workplace, you can contact an experienced employment law attorney to discuss your legal options and next steps.