Texas Roadhouse Age Discrimination Case Provides Important Lessons

By SHLC on March 13, 2017 in Legal Update

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) intends to re-try a case against Texas Roadhouse after the largest age discrimination lawsuit brought to trial in more than three decades ended in a mistrial. The EEOC claimed that Texas Roadhouse, a national restaurant chain, engaged in blatant age discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”).

At trial, the EEOC introduced a variety of “smoking gun” evidence in order to prove the alleged discrimination. Hiring records from 38 of the chain’s restaurants in 20 different states included comments such as “super old,” “old chick,” and “doesn’t really fit our image” written by managers on job applications. The EEOC also introduced a Texas Roadhouse internal document that depicted the company’s “ideal employee” as a young, white woman, as opposed to the company’s “non-ideal employee” as an overweight woman in a wedding dress. Additionally, the EEOC introduced statistics that showed only 1.62 percent of Texas Roadhouse’s front-of-house positions such as servers, server assistants, bartenders, and hosts belonged to employees over the age of 40.

Texas Roadhouse denied all age discrimination allegations and stated that the Company has solid policies in place that expressly prohibit age discrimination. The company also argued that the disparity in over 40 front-of-house employees was due to a lack of interest from older prospective workers, not age discrimination.

Jurors in the original trial could not decide whether Texas Roadhouse intentionally discriminated against older job applicants. The new trial is set to begin on May 15, 2017.

The case is Equal Employment Opportunity Comm’n v. Texas Roadhouse Inc., case number 1:11-cv-11732, in U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

Tips for Employers:

  1. Train managers and/or employees with the power to hire/fire about the ADEA and how to avoid age discrimination. Be sure to emphasize the importance of maintaining a professional demeanor during the interview process.
  2. Keep interview questions consistent and job-related for all applicants (e.g., education, experience, the applicant’s abilities, and qualifications for the position).
  3. Maintain a zero-tolerance policy that prohibits age discrimination, and expressly include it in your employee handbook.
  4. Create a culture where ageist comments are not tolerated and employees who make such comments are subject to disciplinary action.