For Immediate Release: January 30, 2015
Contact: Maria Myotte, maria@rocunited.org, 720-352-6153

Employee Files for Pregnancy Discrimination Against Olive Garden’s Parent Company, Darden Restaurants, Inc

After 10 Years of Employment at Olive Garden, Worker is Illegally Fired After Telling Supervisor About Pregnancy

Philadelphia, PA — Yesterday, workplace justice advocates filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Darden Restaurants Inc., on behalf of Courtnee Dean, alleging that she was illegally fired from her job at a Philadelphia-area Olive Garden restaurant because she was pregnant.

According to the charge, Dean was disciplined without cause and then terminated without any notice or explanation shortly after she told her supervisor she was expecting a child. She had been a Darden employee for 10 years.

Today’s filing is part the Dignity At Darden campaign’s efforts to encourage the largest full-service restaurant corporation in the world, Darden Restaurants Inc., to raise wages and improve employment practices.

After being unfairly terminated, Dean launched a petition on coworker.org calling on Darden  to compensate her the wages she missed as a result of the unjust termination, as well as calling on Darden to meet with her and members of the Dignity At Darden campaign to discuss preventing pregnancy discrimination. The petition has more than 6,000 signatures; a significant portion are from Darden employees.

Federal law makes it illegal for employers to terminate workers because of pregnancy. However, pregnancy discrimination is an all-too common and often-overlooked problem in low-wage industries like restaurants, which employ millions of women across the country.

“I was shocked that after 10 years of employment I’d be treated so unfairly by Olive Garden,” said Courtnee Dean. “It’s my hope that coming forward about my experience with pregnancy discrimination helps other women restaurant workers, especially at Olive Garden and other Darden restaurants, to have the courage to call out unfair treatment and seek support. My goal with all of this is just to make sure that Darden doesn’t get away with treating women like this, and that the company makes actual changes to prevent this from happening again.”

San Francisco-based civil rights non-profit Equal Rights Advocates (ERA), in partnership with ROC United, launched its the Access to Gender Justice Initiative to expose and combat gender discrimination in the restaurant industry through an innovative combination of high impact legal advocacy, public education, and organizing. Through the Access to Gender Justice Initiative, ERA and ROC are taking aim at the employment practices which deprive pregnant workers of their economic security at a time when they and their families most need it.

“More than half of Darden’s 160,000 employees are women, most of whom will get pregnant at some point in their working lives. The company has a legal and moral obligation to treat its entire female workforce fairly,” said ERA’s Legal Director, Jennifer Reisch. “To demonstrate real commitment to equal opportunity, Darden must respond to Ms. Dean’s complaint and take steps to ensure that discrimination against pregnant workers is not tolerated in any of its restaurants.”

Dean is represented by Jennifer Reisch, Legal Director of Equal Rights Advocates, and Ryan Allen Hancock of Philadelphia public interest firm of Willig, Williams & Davidson. Both firms are passionate advocates on behalf individuals who have suffered discrimination in the workplace.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

CNN – Activists fight for a voice in Olive Garden shakeup: http://money.cnn.com/2014/10/09/news/starboard-protest-darden/index.html

BUZZFEED – Exclusive: Olive Garden Server Representing Restaurant’s Employees Says “Things Need To Change”
http://www.buzzfeed.com/mariahsummers/exclusive-olive-garden-server-representing-restaurants-emplo#.ggd9xY3kX

FORTUNE -Living wage advocates set their sights on Olive Garden:
http://fortune.com/2014/10/14/olive-garden-worker-pay/

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Co-founded by leading workers’ rights advocate Saru Jayaraman (“One of the top 50 most influential people in the restaurant industry” – Nation’s Restaurant News) ROC United has grown to over 13,000 worker-members across 26 cities in the US, winning 15 worker-led campaigns, totaling $8 million in stolen tips and wages.

Equal Rights Advocates (ERA) is a national civil rights organization dedicated to protecting and expanding economic and educational access and opportunities for women and girls.

Willig, Williams & Davidson is one of the largest and most respected union-side labor law firms in the United States. Founded in 1979, the firm focuses on representing labor unions, employee benefit funds, individual working people and their families.