Cost of ‘younger and fresh’ staff: $2.85 million

It’s no secret that some industries play up an image of energetic youth as part of their branding and marketing efforts. That’s especially true in the retail and hospitality industries.

Trouble is, staffing your store or restaurant with only young people crashes hard against federal and state laws that forbid age discrimination in hiring and promotions. And that can be expensive. In fact, it just cost the national restaurant chain Seasons 52 more than $2.85 million.

Here’s what happened. The EEOC sued Seasons 52, a Florida-based restaurant chain that is part of the Darden group of restaurants. The suit challenged Seasons 52’s hiring practices after several applicants for server positions complained that hiring managers discouraged their applications because of their age.

During the course of the litigation, the EEOC collected sworn testimony from 135 applicants over the age of 39 who alleged Seasons 52 hiring managers asked them their age or made ageist comments during their interviews. Some of the comments:

  • “Seasons 52 girls are younger and fresh.”
  • “Most of the workers are younger.”
  • “Seasons 52 hires young people.”
  • “We are really looking for someone younger.”

An EEOC analysis of company records confirmed that applicants 40 and older were hired far less frequently than younger applicants.

The mountain of evidence convinced the chain to settle. A payment of $2.85 million will be split by older applicants who were rejected at 35 restaurants. Seasons 52 will also have to hire a compliance monitor to prevent further age discrimination.

Final note: Hiring managers who make blatant ageist comments make it very difficult to win in court because they are direct evidence of discrimination. There’s little an employer can do to counter the allegations. Regularly remind managers of this obvious truth.