Plaintiff Juanita Wynne, center, with her attorneys is the only African American server at McCormick & Schmick's Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley. She is suing the company for racial discrimination.
McCormick& Schmick's Seafood Restaurants Inc., a group of 61 upscale restaurants across the nation, has been charged with violating federal and state laws against racediscriminationin employment in a class action lawsuit filed May 11 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
Claiming that the restaurant chain fails to hire qualified African Americans and instead favors White job applicants and employees in an effort to present a "White image" to the public, African American job applicants and current employees filed Wynne et al. v. McCormick & Schmick'sSeafood Restaurants, Inc.. The plaintiffs are represented by Lieff CabraserHeimann& Bernstein, LLP, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area and several other law firms.
A central allegation in the lawsuit is that McCormick & Schmick's has a nationwide corporate policy and practice of preferring White employees over African American employees for "front-of-the-house" positions. These are the prominent, better-paying jobs, including server, hostess, host and bartender. Plaintiff Dante Byrd was not hired as a bartender at McCormick & Schmick's Berkeley, Calif. restaurant despite having a diploma from bartending school and seven years' experience as a bartender.
"McCormick & Schmick's is making employment decisions based on skin color," stated attorney Diana C. Tate, head of the African American Agenda at the Lawyers' Committee. "Whites are hired for positions in the front of the restaurants as servers, hostesses, hosts and bartenders. African Americans are either not hired or relegated to low-paid, menial jobs where they do not interact with the public. This discrimination and segregation has no place in 21st-century America."
The lawsuit also charges that McCormick & Schmick's managers throw away applications from African American job seekers without seriously considering them. In addition, the complaint alleges that managers have been instructed by corporate headquarters to "clean up the restaurant," meaning to hire fewer African Americans, to keep the African American employees away from front-of-the-house positions and to subject African American employees to harsher discipline.
While promotions are preferentially given to White workers without requiring a formal application process, African American employees are denied promotions to management positions at McCormick & Schmick's restaurants throughout the United States, the suit alleges.
"McCormick & Schmick's touts 'We are in the business of People — our employees and our guests.' But the company fails to live up to the promise of treating all employees equally and fairly," said Bill Lann Lee, a partner at Lieff Cabraser and former Assistant Attorney Gen-eral for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice.
"McCormick & Schmick's uses racial stereotypes to deny job opportunities and promotions to thousands of qualified African American applicants and employees," Lee said.
The few African Americans who are hired are disproportionately assigned to "back-of-the-house" positions. These positions include bussers, bar backs and less desirable kitchen positions. The few African Americans assigned to server positions are given less desirable shifts and table assignments.
Plaintiff Juanita Wynne is the only African American server at Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto in Berkeley.
"I have worked hard as a server at the restaurant since 1999, but I haven't been treated fairly. My shifts and pay were cut for no good reason, while White servers' shifts and pay were not," Wynne said.
Wynne, a 28-year-old Berkeley resident, filed a complaint last year with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which granted her the right to sue.
McCormick & Schmick's operates restaurants across the United States under various names. The company employs more than 5,400 workers. Although the restaurants have different menus and designs, the lawsuit charges that they all are run by the same corporate management, follow the same human resources policies and practices and participate in the same racial discrimination.
The suit seeks an injunction to reform the discriminatory practices of McCormick & Schmick's and the institution of company programs to ensure equal employment opportunities for African Americans. In addition, the suit is seeking back pay, emotional distress damages and punitive damages for all class members.
Attorneys said that employees of McCormick & Schmick's who wish to report their experiences at the restaurants or learn more about the lawsuit should call1-866-854-4165 or visit www.lieffcabraser.com/mccormickcomplaints.htm.
Representing plaintiffs are the San Francisco offices of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights of the Bay Area, the Thomas A. Warren Law Offices of Tallahassee, Fla., Lewis Feinberg Renaker & Jackson P.C., of Oakland, Calif., Lafayette & Kumagai of San Francisco, Calif., and Kingsley and Kingsley of Encino, Calif.