Wage lawsuit targets Olive Garden

The One Fair Wage advocacy group has filed a lawsuit with U.S. District Court in Northern California against restaurant group Darden Restaurants, which oversees 1,800 Olive Gardens and other restaurants and employs more than 167,000 hourly employees. Filed April 15, the suit claims that the pay scale for tipped employees (as low as $2.13 per hour in the 43 states that allow this practice) is less than the minimum wage. The tips are then applied to wages to ensure that the workers get the state-mandated minimum wage. When the employees’ tips do not add up to the minimum wage, Darden must pay the difference.

Sexual harassment and discrimination

One Fair Wage (OFW) argues that this practice of using tips to fill out basic wages can lead to sexual harassment — restaurants top the list of workplaces where sexual harassment occurs, and women make up 70% of Darden’s tipped staff. OFW also claims there is discrimination or less pay for servers of color because they may get lower tips or pay if they complain about their treatment by customers, managers or coworkers. According to ABC News:

“The racism and discrimination is so vast in my restaurant,” said Ptorsha Cozart, who works at a Cheddar Scratch Kitchen in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The server, who is Black, claimed that customers would sometimes request a white server. She adds that they might ask her to pull down her mask so they can decide if she’s attractive enough to tip.

A widespread practice

The practice of paying tipped employees less is common. OFW chose to file its suit against Darden because they are one of the biggest employers of tipped employees in the country. Theoretically, winning this case could prompt other corporations and businesses with tipped employees to adjust their pay structure.

In an effort to attract more workers, Darden recently raised its minimum wage to $10 per hour (with tips) and going up to $12 per hour in 2023. It says that the averaged tipped employee earns $20 per hour. It also claims the lawsuit is really a dispute with state and federal wage laws.

For their part, One Fair Wage claims in the lawsuit that the $2.13 per hour wage violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act because the law forbids employment discrimination race, color, sex, religion, or nation of origin.