Chicago Business Litigation & Restaurant Labor Laws

Chicago business litigation attorneys know that most companies do their best to adhere to federal and state laws regarding fairness of wages and non-discrimination.

And yet, many can still find themselves in need of a Chicago employment attorney because employees are always going to want to get paid more and will sometimes use any perceived slight as a justification for pressing forward with a court case.

In fact, an employer's pay structure and human resources materials should always be carefully vetted by an experienced business law firm to head off potential problems before they arise.

The thing is, anyone can file a lawsuit. In order to protect your company's assets and future from claims - frivolous or otherwise - counsel experienced in handling employment disputes is often critical.

That's the situation being faced now by Darden Restaurants Inc. The company, which owns the high-end Capital Grille steakhouse chains, as well as Red Lobster and Olive Garden, is being sued in a federal court in Chicago amid claims of violation of state and federal labor laws as well as racial discrimination.

Darden Restaurants Inc. is well known as being one of the largest and most well-respected companies within its industry. On the other hand, the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (also referred to as ROC) is a formidable opponent, acting as a highly vocal advocate for restaurant working conditions and wages.

The lawsuit alleges first of all that Caucasian workers are given better-paying posts at the "front of the house," that is where they are more likely to work with customers. So think servers, bartenders, hosts, etc. Meanwhile, they contend that lower-paying, "back of the house" jobs, such as food preparation and dish washing, are given to racial minorities.

Additionally, the complainants contend that workers were forced to work without pay, weren't given proper breaks for rest and were forced to divvy up their tips with non-tipped workers.

The class action lawsuit reportedly includes employees not just from Chicago, but from Washington D.C. and New York City as well.

Representatives for Darden say that ROC representatives have yet to provide any specifics on any single employee with a grievance. The company representative says that if there were an individual violation (and they believe any violation would indeed have been isolated), there are multiple ways that the employee could have sought to have their grievance addressed.

Darden owns nearly 2,000 restaurants and employs some 180,000 people in both the U.S. and Canada.

Pointedly, the chief executive of Darden is a minority. What's more, it was voted by Forbes as among the best 100 companies to work for both last year and this year.

Wage lawsuits in the restaurant industry unfortunately are not uncommon, given the unique nature of the pay system, with servers making a base pay of less than the standard minimum wage.

Whether or not these particular claims hold any merit, most restaurants would do well to consult with a business attorney who can help assist them in determining if their pay and labor practices may open them up to litigation - before any litigation is actually filed.

Jeremy A. Gibson & Associates is a law firm dedicated to business litigation in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois. Call 877-452-4529 for a free consultation.

Additional Resources:
Workers to hit Darden with wage, discrimination claims, By Lisa Baertlein, Reuters