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Outback Steakhouse settles sex bias suit for $19M


DENVER—Outback Steakhouse has agreed to pay $19 million to settle a class action lawsuit charging sexual discrimination against thousands of women at hundreds of its corporate-owned restaurants nationwide, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Tuesday.

The EEOC said the restaurant chain discriminated against its female employees with respect to terms and conditions of employment and denied them equal opportunities for advancement so they could not be promoted to its restaurants' higher-level profit-sharing management positions.

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

The EEOC said the $19 million in monetary relief will be administered through a claims process in which an administrator will send letters to all female workers employed at corporate-owned Outbacks since 2002 who have at least three years of tenure.

Among other remedial measures, Outback also agreed to institute an online application system for employees interested in managerial and other supervisory positions, and to hire a human resource executive in the newly created position of vp of people, according to the EEOC.

The EEOC said the settlement stems from a lawsuit it filed in September 2006 in federal district court in Denver.

Liz Smith, CEO of Tampa, Fla.-based OSI Restaurant Partners L.L.C., which operates the Outback chain, 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.”

Outback also said in its statement, “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.”

The company also said the settlement “includes no finding of fault on the part of Outback. The company ultimately determined that settling the suit with funds provided entirely by insurance was preferable to the cost and distraction of further litigation.”

The company did not immediately respond to a request for more details on its insurance coverage.