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Restaurant chain McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurants Inc. has agreed to pay $1.3 million to resolve an EEOC-class race discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in which it was charged with refusing to hire African-Americans for front-of the-house positions at its two Baltimore restaurant locations.
A company official defended the company and criticized the agency in commenting on the settlement.
In a lawsuit originally filed in 2008, the EEOC also charged that black front-of-the-house workers hired at the McCormick & Schmick's and M&S Grill restaurants in Baltimore were denied equal work assignments because of their race, and that the chain's advertising for job opportunities on its website had previously contained “visual depictions of employees that expressed a preference for nonblack workers to the ordinary reader.”
The chain was acquired in 2012 by Houston-based Landry's Inc., which has had no participation in any of the alleged events involving the charges, according to court papers.
The $1.3 million fund established by the settlement is for eligible claimants in two categories, the EEOC said in its statement: black persons who sought employment at either or both of the restaurants between Jan. 1, 1998, and Jan. 1, 2010; and black persons who were employed at the restaurants during the same period.
Of the $1.3 million, half will constitute back pay with interest and the remaining half will constitute statutory damages, according to court papers.
Among other settlement terms, McCormick & Schmick's will implement numerous goals for hiring black job applicants for front-of-the-house positions at the two Baltimore locations, according to court papers.
“We are very pleased that McCormick & Schmick's worked with us and the federal court mediator to craft a comprehensive settlement that will benefit all employees and applicants,” EEOC Philadelphia regional attorney Debra M. Lawrence said Friday in a statement. “In addition to the monetary compensation for the class members, the extensive programmatic measures are designed to promote equal opportunity for black job applicants and workers.”
Steven L. Scheinthal, McCormick & Schmick’s executive vice president and general counsel, said in a statement: "Our mission is, has been and always will be, to promote equal opportunity in the work place. The settlement with the EEOC simply provides what is routine for our business, non-discriminatory hiring and treatment of employees.
“Unfortunately, the EEOC’s mission is to sensationalize and embarrass companies whenever a voluntary settlement is reached. The allegations raised by the EEOC occurred almost four years ago and ignored the fact that the two restaurants were made up of a diverse work force at all times, including a significant number of black employees. Nevertheless, the voluntary settlement was in the best interest of all parties and allowed us to avoid costly and protracted litigation, which is being funded with insurance proceeds.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has charged a Green Bay, Wisconsin, manufacturer with national origin discrimination because it allegedly fired a group of Hmong and Hispanic workers because of their poor English skills, even though English proficiency was not needed to perform their jobs.