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Lawry's will pay over $1 million to settle discrimination suit

For decades, the chain would not hire men as waiters. The company said it changed the policy in 2004.

November 03, 2009|Jerry Hirsch

The Lawry's chain of high-end steakhouses will pay more than $1 million to settle a federal discrimination lawsuit contending that for decades it hired only women as servers, the government said Monday.

The lawsuit, filed in 2006 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said that a company as large as Pasadena-based Lawry's Restaurants Inc. should have known that the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibited such a policy.

The case was based on a 2003 complaint by a busboy who said he was denied a higher-paid position as a waiter because of his gender.

The company, which dates its founding to the opening of the Tam O'Shanter Inn in Los Angeles in 1922, said it remedied its policy in 2004 and was glad to resolve the issue.

"When we were first approached with the charge, we took substantial efforts to work with the EEOC to remedy the situation," said Rich Cope, director of marketing for Lawry's. "We started to hire male servers and have been in compliance with the law since 2004."

The case was unusual because the standard employment complaint against expensive restaurants is that they fail to promote women to server positions, said Anna Y. Park, the EEOC attorney who handled the case.

"We have challenged other companies that only will hire men. That is the more common violation," she said.

Lawry's policy of hiring women as servers dates to 1938, and the company has dressed the women in 1930s- and '40s-style fashions ever since. Women still dress in such costumes. The male waiters wear "complementary" clothing, but it does not reflect the fashions of the period, Cope said.

Park noted that at expensive restaurants, people who bus tables tend to have much lower total pay than those who serve customers. Servers at some of the Lawry's restaurants earn $50,000 to $60,000 a year, depending on the location, Park said.

The company operates nine restaurants under the Lawry's, Lawry's Carvery, Five Crowns and Tam O'Shanter Inn restaurants. It has about 640 employees.

Under the consent decree, Lawry's agreed to pay $500,000 to men denied jobs as waiters for the chain. Park said several hundred people might be eligible to share the compensation.

"It is hard to tell how many will come forward," Park said.

Lawry's also agreed to set aside $225,000 to train its workers to comply with discrimination laws.

The company will spend an additional $300,000 for an advertising campaign to let the public know that it now hires men as waiters.

The settlement still requires the approval of a federal district court judge.

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jerry.hirsch@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesjerry

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