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Employers Seeking "Youthful Image"


The EEOC has recently brought a case of age discrimination against a national restaurant chain whose headquarters are in Orlando, Florida. The case alleges a pattern-or-practice of age discrimination, based on the company's policy of allegedly seeking a "youthful image."

The EEOC's Claims against Darden Restaurants

The EEOC claims the restaurant had a central hiring process under which older applicants were routinely denied employment. According to the statistical data, the company's hiring of individuals in the over-40 age bracket was much lower than should be expected. Also, hiring officials at Darden Restaurants made comments such as, "we are looking for 'fresh' employees" and want a "youthful" image. These types of statements can be seen as "direct evidence" of age discrimination.

The Nationwide Hiring Practices of Darden Restaurants is Being Challenged

Since 2010, Darden Restaurants has opened approximately 25 restaurants throughout the United States. The company has a centralized and highly structured hiring process, through which training teams are present at new restaurant openings, and train other managers on how to implement those same centralized hiring procedures. As a result, according to the EEOC, the defendants have established a pattern and practice of rejecting applicants over the age of 40. According to the complaint, unsuccessful applicants were told things like "you are too experienced"; "we are not looking for old white guys"; "we are looking for 'fresh' employees"; and the restaurant wanted a "youthful" image.

The ADEA Allows Pattern or Practice Claims

One of the arguments made by Darden Restaurants is that the federal statute known as the ADEA, does not permit pattern-or-practice claims. While Title VII allows for such claims, under a "motivating factor" standard for discrimination, there is no such language in the ADEA. However, in reality, the pattern-or-practice burden-shifting framework does not appear in either statute, but instead was developed by the courts. Under the controlling authority of the Eleventh Circuit, then, the EEOC was authorized to bring the pattern-or-practice ADEA claim against Darden Restaurants.

"Integrated Enterprise or Single Employer"

The court also held, in the Darden Restaurants case, that the EEOC was successful in establishing that the Company, and its subsidiaries, constituted a single employer. The court further concluded that the company was an integrated enterprise or single employer by virtue of their "common management, interrelations of operations, centralized control over labor relations, and common ownership." The EEOC also argued that the company "utilize[d] nearly identical hiring processes and practices for all pre-opening hiring and for hiring at all newly-opened restaurants." As such, it will be easier to establish a pattern and practice of discrimination across all of its various restaurant chains.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment attorneys at Michel | King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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