I’m back–in case you noticed an absence in the last 3 weeks. I was firmly ensconced in “Wedding Land” tying up loose ends and then celebrating as I married off my only daughter about a week ago. (Holy cow, I’m now a mother-in-law! I know I digress, but I just couldn’t resist.)
I won’t keep you waiting any longer. Let’s get to this week’s topic. Suppose you have a business that deals a lot with the public, a restaurant perhaps. You want your establishment to project energy, and freshness. You look for staff that fit that bill, and so you let it be known that you want “young and fresh” employees. I’m sure you’ve guessed that can be a problem. Seasons 52 now knows that. Let’s see what we can learn from their mistakes…
(image from munchies.vice.com)
Yes, I am again talking about age discrimination. Yes, I’ve written about it before (here, here and here specifically). Ironically it seems to be a topic that never gets old. (See what I did there?) There is a new point to this post, though and I will get to it soon, so bear with me. First, let’s see what happened at Seasons 52.
Approximately three years ago the EEOC sued Darden Restaurants which operates a chain of restaurants knows as Seasons 52, alleging that its hiring practices violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Specifically, the EEOC alleged that Seasons 52 refused to hire any applicants over 40 years old for front-of-the-house or back-of the-house positions in 35 of its restaurants across the country. That fact alone already gives rise to at least a potential ADEA claim. If that were all, however, Seasons 52 might be able to explain away the pattern — but that wasn’t all. The case went to trial, and included testimony from more than 135 applicants, all of whom said that during the application process they were asked their age and were told that the company only hired young people.
According to the EEOC comments from Seasons 52 managers included “Seasons 52 hires young people”, “We are really looking for someone younger”, that the applicant in question was “too experienced”, that the company wanted to hire “fresh” employees, not “old white guys”.
I’ll come back to what’s wrong with this picture (beyond the very obvious) in a moment. Let me first say that Seasons 52 is paying for its mistakes–and they are many–to the tune of $2.85 million. By the way this was a settlement amount. Why is that important? If, after that testimony, Seasons 52 was willing to settle for $2.85 million, it likely believed that a jury might have awarded a higher amount–and Seasons 52 would have incurred additional legal fees to continue defending the case. That’s not all though. Seasons 52 has to give its recruitment and hiring process and overhaul, and it has to pay for a compliance monitor to ensure that it fulfills its obligations under the settlement.
OK, let’s deconstruct and determine what went wrong. Let’s start with the obvious. Managers asked applicants their age. Managers clearly refused to hire applicants based on their age and were open about it, as shown by their comments. Your first thought might be, “How can anyone today not know that this behavior is illegal?” The top folks at Seasons 52 may have been surprised at the allegations, because after all they say on their website that they’re an Equal Opportunity Employer and that they don’t discriminate on the basis of age. They may even have policies forbidding such discrimination. So what’s the problem? It appears that no one explained these points to the hiring managers at their restaurants.
EEO language on websites and in Employee Handbooks is great. Policies are also great — and necessary. So is training on policies. You know what’s even better? Following through on the statements, the policies and the training. A policy is only effective if it’s enforced. Clearly these policies were not adequately enforced. Policies and training are only effective if someone follows up and monitors compliance with the carefully worded policies and EEO statements and polished training presentations. After you monitor compliance you have to hold accountable those who are not complying. If you don’t then your staff and your managers will assume that the policies, statements and training are only for show–and at least a few of them will act the way the Seasons 52 managers did–and like Seasons 52 you will end up paying in some way.
This seems like a good place to end for now. See you next week!
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