After three years, Darden Restaurants finally reached a settlement with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), bringing an end to the longstanding age-discrimination lawsuit. Darden, who runs a number of Season 52 Restaurants and the well-known Olive Garden chain, said at the beginning of May that it would divvy up $2.85 million amongst those who had allegedly experienced discrimination.
According to the allegations, the company outright refused to hire “old white guys,” attempting to maintain a young, hip image. Anthony Scornavacca, 52, and Hugo Alfaro, 42, were named on the complaint, but hundreds of others have come forward since the commencement of the suit.
Darden has not admitted to any wrongdoing; nonetheless, the company will commence new training programs for hiring managers, focusing on “age-neutral and non-discriminatory recruiting, interviewing, and hiring” practices. This case brings attention to the ever-increasing phenomenon of age-discrimination.
Lawyers working with the EEOC have found that the hiring practices at Season 52 have been egregiously discriminatory. David Seltzer, one of the attorneys, had this to say: “Often, discrimination cases are hard to prove.” He continued, “But here, Season 52 interviews across locations repeatedly told applicants things like ‘We don’t hire people over 40,’ ‘Season 52 girls are younger and fresh’ or asked them for their date of birth, high school graduation date or a driver’s license.”
As per the settlement, Darden has agreed to permit Fred W. Alvarez, an independent lawyer from the Jones Day law firm, to monitor the company’s hiring practices for the next three years.
A spokesperson for Darden told reporters that the restaurant company was just glad to be done with it. “Putting this behind us is good for Season 52, good for our team members and good for our shareholders.”
Younger and Younger
This story highlights the growing concern around age discrimination. Alfaro was only 42 when he was turned away by a Season 52 hiring manager. According to a 2016 report published by CNBC, the target age for hiring managers is getting younger and younger. This is especially true in Silicon Valley, where the average age for workers hovers around 30. At Facebook, the average age is 29 (at least as of 2016) and at Google, it’s 30. Now, prospective employees in Silicon Valley are doing everything they can to look younger – even getting plastic surgery.
Worse and Worse
The problem is clearly getting worse, as the Supreme Court and Congress continually make it harder to prove age-discrimination claims. In 2014, the EEOC received 20,588 charges of age-discrimination – that’s up from 17,837 charges a decade prior. Last year, the number went down to 18,376, but the problem persists.
According to Brian Schaffer, an employment lawyer in New York, the problem is likely to get worse “because the older generation doesn’t have the money to retire and then live 20 more years.” He continued, “Companies are trying to cut costs and one of the ways to do try it is to eliminate older workers and hire much younger people.”
The Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 is supposed to prevent age-based discrimination against people over the age of 40, but according to a survey conducted by the non-profit AARP, the statute doesn’t appear to be doing its job. Nearly two-thirds of workers over 45 and under 74 have experienced some kind of age-discrimination.
According to Laurie McCann, senior lawyer at the AARP, older folks tend to suffer during economic downturns: “The economy is the bellwether of how much age discrimination we see.” A report published by US News found that unemployment amongst workers over the age of 55 increased fairly rapidly after the recession – from 3.1 percent in 2007 to 7.6 percent in 2010. Once older people get work, they can hold on to it, but the job search can be frightful. In 2011, older workers spent an average of 35 weeks looking for work. That’s nearly 10 more weeks than younger workers, who had to spend 26 weeks searching for a job during the same year.
Why are employers so reluctant to hire workers over the age of 40? Like most things, it comes down to money and profits. Older workers – who tend to have more experience – expect a certain salary to match their work history. This is a turn-off for employers who would rather train a younger worker and pay a lower salary.