EEOC sends a message about age discrimination

Leave your biases at the door.

As we close in on the 50th anniversary of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) the EEOC announced the settlement of a long-lived age discrimination suit against Texas Roadhouse.

The case

The case against Texas Roadhouse was filed in Massachusetts against the Kentucky based restaurant chain. The EEOC claimed the company violated the law ”… by engaging in a nationwide pattern or practice of age discrimination in hiring hourly front-of-the-house employees.” The settlement requires that the company pay $12 million, be monitored for three years and set up a system for applicants that applied for front of house positions, from the period of Jan. 1, 2007 through Dec. 31, 2014, to make a claim against the company. This claims process  will identify and compensate those affected individuals age 40 and older who applied to Texas Roadhouse for a front-of-the-house position. The company is also required to hire a diversity director and pay for a decree compliance monitor, who is charged with ensuring that the company complies with the decree’s terms. These terms require Texas Roadhouse to comply with the ADEA and to increase its recruitment and hiring of employees age 40 and older for front-of-the-house positions.

How many?

How many people will make a claim? How many were discriminated against? We will have to wait to find out, but given that much of the specified period covers the recessionary period, it could be many.

What caused this discrimination?

My guess is that many restaurants operate under the unconscious bias that older applicants cannot handle the pace of working in a busy restaurant at peak time. Indeed that may be true, but at the same time many younger workers also cannot handle that pace. It is not the age of the person that matters. It is their work ethic.
Another possible reason is the “image” the restaurant wants to project. Youthful typically translates to vibrant, happening, fun in many people’s minds. Though, from personal experience, I have met many dull, listless young people who should not be in the hospitality business and had tremendous experiences with wait staff that had some “experience” under their belt. Age doesn’t dictate the experience you receive.

The lesson from this

The very expensive lesson that Texas Roadhouse learned, and one everyone should learn, is don’t make assessments on a candidate based on your perception of the group to which they belong. Check your biases, either overt or unconscious, at the door. Evaluate people for their actual fit to the job. Otherwise it may cost you a great deal of money.
Whether Texas Roadhouse settled to get the EEOC off their backs and the lawsuit was costing too much money, or whether they saw the errors of their ways is irrelevant. I just hope that other companies will heed the lessons that Texas Roadhouse is paying for and giving to everyone else for free.

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