Color Of Change Takes On Racism At Darden Restaurants

Activist group Color of Change is calling on activists to demand that Darden Restaurants -- which operates chains like Capital Grille, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster -- for apparent racism in hiring and promotion practices. Darden pays most workers in its chains subpar wages and in the one high-wage part of the company -- Capital Grille -- African-American workers are rarely hired for high-paying jobs. Even in the low-wage portions of the company, African-American workers are more likely to be hired for jobs that pay less, such as bus boys, that don't pay a living wage. Promotions are much less like for African-American workers, too. Darden workers in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. have filed a complaint over lost wages and discrimination.

Color of Change wants activists to send a letter to Darden's CEO:

Dear Darden CEO Clarence Otis, Jr.,

I am writing to demand that you act now to address discrimination against Black workers within your company.

Across the restaurant industry, Black workers earn on average $4 less per hour than White workers. A look at the de facto segregation within Darden explains why this is the case. Workers of color are relegated to lower-paying jobs while White workers are hired into the front-of-the-house and chef jobs, including those at your fine-dining restaurant, Capital Grille.

I understand that you are now facing a lawsuit as a result of your employment practices. I ask that you sign an agreement with the employees in the lawsuit to institute a promotions policy that's in line with EEOC standards and that allows at least 50% of non-management staff to advance to livable wage positions, including waitstaff and bartending positions, at the Capital Grille.

At a time when Black unemployment is nearly twice the national average and the private sector is being heralded as our greatest hope, Darden’s pattern of relegating Black workers to the lowest-wage work is unconscionable. Darden’s behavior indicates that you doubt that Black restaurant workers can wield nuanced knowledge of food and drink and provide top-notch service. If that’s not the case, institute an promotions system that allows Black workers to compete for jobs at Darden’s fine-dining restaurants.

The problem is part of a bigger problem at Darden:

Darden runs nearly 2,000 restaurants nationwide and boasts annual sales of $7.5 billion.8,9 But the few Black workers who make it into the big leagues there often don't stay very long. According to reports from two Black servers who worked at Darden's Capital Grille in DC -- a restaurant patronized by politicians, lobbyists, and others in the Washington elite -- Black front-of-the-house staff were let go en masse within a short period of time because they “didn’t fit the company image.” They were all replaced by White workers.10

Despite the pattern of racial discrimination, Darden -- the world's largest full-service restaurant company -- ranks in the "Top 100 Places to Work," an annual list published by Fortune Magazine.11 The company gets high marks for a diverse workforce (of course, there's no mention of who works which jobs) and for generating the third-most job growth of all the companies on the 2011 list.12

The company's CEO is Clarence Otis Jr., an African-American businessman. In an interview with USA Today, Otis boasts about his company's "talent evaluation process" and practice of providing employees with "advanced training and development."13 But that's not the story that's reveals itself if you talk to the company's Black employees, as our partners at ROC-United have done.14

At a time when Black unemployment is nearly twice the national average and the private sector is being heralded as our greatest hope, Darden's pattern of relegating Black workers to the lowest-wage work is unconscionable.

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