Times Square Olive Garden employees file complaint alleging racial and gender bias

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Times Square Olive Garden employees file complaint alleging racial and gender bias
Irene Jiang / Business Insider
  • Employees from the Olive Garden in Times Square location have filed a complaint against Darden, alleging racial and gender based discrimination.
  • The company called the allegations baseless.
  • This is the second suit of its kind this year.

Employees at the famous Times Square Olive Garden have accused the chain's owner, Darden Restaurants, of "racial and gender based discrimination."

In a complaint filed Tuesday with New York City's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, four employees allege lower wages and tips due to either their race or sexual orientation. They also said they were called back to work later than their counterparts.

All of the employees in the suit claim their non-Black or heterosexual co-workers are treated better through actions such as "giving preferable sections of the restaurant to non-Black servers, steering of larger parties or higher tipping customers to non-Black servers, giving preferable tables to non-Black servers, giving more profitable shifts to non-Black servers."

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One employee claims a co-worker once pulled a knife on them and called them a racial slur.

This is not the first time Darden has been accused of discrimination through tipping.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit One Fair Wage filed a complaint saying "[Darden's] practice of paying tipped workers a sub-minimum wage causes them to suffer more sexual harassment than non-tipped workers and leads employees of color to earn less in tips than their White co-workers," according to The Washington Post.

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Darden, which also owns The Capital Grille and Eddie V's Seafood, called the accusations baseless.

"Across our brands, tipped team members earn, on average, more than $20 per hour," the company said in an emailed statement. "We have one of the lowest hourly turnover rates in the industry - 50% better than the industry average. We provide tremendous opportunities for advancement. We promote nearly 1,000 team members a year into management; more than half of our restaurant managers come from our hourly ranks; and more than 90% of our restaurant general managers, as well as our Directors of Operations, are promoted from within."

The company also said its invested "more than $100 million" this year into relief for dining room employees who cannot work while some restaurants remain closed to in-person service.

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The pandemic has lead to tough times for both the Times Square location and the Olive Garden chain as a whole.

When indoor dining was banned during the height of the pandemic, the restaurant was losing $300,000 every week. That's in sharp contrast to before the pandemic, when the location was the highest performing, bringing in $15 million a year.

In April, Darden CEO Gene Lee said he would forgo his $1 million base salary during the pandemic. By June, that decision had been reversed.

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