LOS ANGELES -- The Lawry's chain of high-end steak houses will pay more than $1 million to settle a federal discrimination lawsuit charging that for decades it hired only females as servers.
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 charged that he was denied a higher-paid position as a waiter because of his gender.
The company, which dates its founding in Los Angeles to 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. We started to hire male servers and have been in compliance with the law since 2004," said Rich Cope, director of marketing for Lawry's. "For 87 years Lawry's has been an industry leader in improving the quality of employment for our co-workers and continues to be committed to providing a workplace free of discrimination."
The case was unusual because the standard employment complaint for 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 females 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 what's described as "complementary" clothing, but it does not reflect the fashions of the period, Cope said.
Park noted there also was a big salary difference between the people who bus tables and those who serve customers at expensive restaurants. Servers at some of the Lawry's restaurants earn $50,000 to $60,000 depending on the location.
"There were some that made as much as $70,000 depending on the year," she 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 who were 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. And the company will spend another $300,000 for an advertising campaign to let the public know that it now hires males as waiters. The settlement still requires the approval of a federal district court judge.