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A Beef With Lawry's: Rare Male Servers

April 05, 2006|Lisa Girion | Times Staff Writer

Steeped in tradition, Lawry's takes pride in serving up prime rib from silver carts much the way the family-run restaurant chain's founders did in 1938, when they opened the original Beverly Hills location.

But the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Tuesday that in employing mostly female servers in its upscale eateries, the Pasadena company might be too retro for its own good.

In an unusual class-action lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the agency charged the chain of seven restaurants with maintaining a hiring policy established in 1938 that discriminates against men.

The EEOC alleges that Lawry's has a policy against employing male servers, relegating men to lower-paying helper jobs. The agency's analysis, referenced in the suit filed Friday, found that the highest-paid servers at Lawry's can earn more than $45,000 a year, including tips, while busing helpers make about 40% less.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 06, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Lawry's lawsuit: An article in Wednesday's Business section about a class-action employment lawsuit against Lawry's Restaurants Inc. said about one-fifth of discrimination complaints to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission were made by men. Men lodge about one-fifth of gender discrimination complaints to the agency.

The alleged bias violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act in a way the architects of the landmark law probably hadn't imagined, said EEOC regional lawyer Anna Park.

"The focus at that time was to provide equal opportunity for women

Lawry's declined to comment.

About one-fifth of all discrimination complaints to the EEOC are made by men, agency spokesman David Grinberg said.

Park said she believed the Lawry's case was the first the Los Angeles office had filed on behalf of men alleging gender bias in hiring. The alleged discrimination by Lawry's is even more odd, she said, given that men hold the overwhelming majority -- 71% -- of jobs in the upscale-steakhouse market.

The Lawry's suit was prompted by a complaint from a busing helper who said he had been denied a server's job at the company's Las Vegas restaurant because of his gender.

"He was told ... in a smirking way, 'You've got to fit into this dress to be a server,' " Park said, referring to Lawry's signature server costume: a ruffly bibbed apron over an old-fashioned dress and a frilly headpiece.

A subsequent investigation found that in 2000 to 2003, Lawry's hired 250 servers -- all of them women, Park said. "This was just so stark because they didn't have any men" servers.

She said that the Las Vegas man who initiated the case had since been promoted to server and that Lawry's had made some improvements in the last year. But it has not hired a great number of male servers, she said.

The chain employs 450 people in Lawry's restaurants in several cities, including Chicago and Dallas, as well as the Tam O'Shanter Inn in Los Angeles and the Five Crowns in Corona del Mar, Park said.

The EEOC is seeking compensatory damages of as much as $300,000 each for men denied server jobs, as well as back pay for as long as 10 years.

In 1997, Hooters of America Inc. agreed to pay $3.75 million to settle a suit filed by men who said they were turned away when they applied for jobs at the chain, which is known for its female servers in revealing outfits. The EEOC decided against joining that case.

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