Saturday, January 2, 2010

OSI Restaurants settles suit for $19M


OSI Restaurants settles suit for $19M


TAMPA, Fla.  (Dec. 30, 2009) Outback Steakhouse parent company OSI Restaurant Partners LLC has agreed to pay $19 million to settle a class-action lawsuit filed by women claiming that corporate promotions were tainted by sex discrimination.

The Tampa-based restaurant operator said this week that the consent decree with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission “includes no finding of fault on the part of Outback.”

The lawsuit was originally filed in September 2006 on behalf of two Colorado women, Rosalind Martinez and Mindy Byers. The suit alleged they were not promoted beyond low-level restaurant management jobs while less qualified men were made “managing partners,” who could share in restaurant profits. Female employees “hit a glass ceiling at Outback and could not get promoted to the higher-level profit-sharing management positions in the restaurants,” the EEOC lawsuit alleged.

The settlement could include numerous female employees at various locations throughout the United States. The Outback Steakhouse chain totals about 971 restaurants, of which 792 are based in the United States. OSI also operates and franchises the Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine brands.

Liz Smith, the new chairman and chief executive of OSI, said in a statement: “I am very pleased the company and the EEOC have resolved this legacy issue. There is no glass ceiling at OSI, and we do not tolerate discrimination in any form.”

The EEOC also claimed women were denied favorable job assignments, particularly kitchen management experience, which was required for employees to be considered for the top management job in the restaurants.

In addition to the $19 million in the four-year consent decree, which was signed by Federal Court Judge Christine M. Arguello, Outback must:

# Institute an online application system for employees interested in managerial and other supervisory positions
# Employ a human resource executive in the new post of vice president of people
# Hire an outside consultant for at least two years to determine compliance with the decree and analyze data from the online application system to determine if women are being provided equal opportunities for promotion
# Report every six months to the EEOC on progress.

OSI said Tuesday that the consent decree “reflects the policies, procedures and systems that were developed by Outback to provide all employees the opportunity to express interest in and be considered for promotions.”

Smith said further: “I have a profound commitment to ensuring not only equal, but very compelling and rewarding employment opportunities for all individuals and I look forward to building on the processes already in place at Outback to ensure we live up to that standard every day.”

The company, which said it decided to settle the lawsuit with funds provided by insurance rather than litigate the case further, said it was “pleased that the EEOC recognizes [OSI’s] electronic registry as an important tool to provide and track equal employment and advancement opportunities for all employees.”

Mary Jo O’Neill, a regional attorney in the EEOC’s Phoenix district, which covers Colorado, said, “We are pleased with the initiatives that Outback has agreed to in this settlement and look forward to seeing its efforts to promote women into management positions realized.”

Rita Byrnes Kittle, a senior trial attorney in the agency’s Denver field office, said, “We are particularly pleased about Outback’s commitment to a new process for employees to apply for promotion online and for hiring managers to make their selections from the online applications. We think this new process will help give women a fair opportunity to advance in the company.”

An administrator will set up a claims process for women who might be eligible for relief in the $19 million pool provided in the consent decree. Letters will be sent to women who worked in corporate Outback restaurants from 2002 to the present and have at least three years with the company.

Stephanie Struble, the EEOC Denver trial attorney who worked with Byrnes Kittle on the case, said, “We encourage women who believe they were discriminated against by Outback to come forward and complete the claims form to obtain monetary relief.”

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