UPDATE: May 29, 2020: Bloomin' Brands shared the following statement with Restaurant Dive: "This is an ongoing investigation and as a matter of practice, we are unable to discuss this. We take these claims seriously."
- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has asked the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan Southern Division to enforce subpoenas the EEOC issued during the course of an investigation into sex-based wage discrimination claims at a Michigan Outback Steakhouse, according to court documents filed on Thursday. The EEOC claims that Bloomin' Brands failed to comply with subpoenas it issued late last year and the company didn't respond by the EEOC's deadline of Jan. 8. Bloomin’ responded on Jan. 24, but the EEOC determined that response was non-compliant. The commission states "failure to comply with the subpoenas has delayed and hampered the investigation."
- EEOC began an investigation in 2019 into allegations submitted by three female employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that claimed a male colleague earned more than them even though they were performing similar tasks.
- Bloomin' responded to the subpoenas on Jan. 24, 2019, stating that the male employee, Kyle Spinner, had more experience in this field prior to joining the company and additional responsibilities, which is why he was paid $1 more per hour. It reiterated this stance in a one-page letter in July 2019 responding to the charges from one of the charges filed by one of the female workers, Maya Puleo.
The EEOC claims Bloomin's submitted responses aren't sufficient because they don't break down the assigned locations worked by each employee, nor do they identify all of the decision makers involved in these hires. In Bloomin's July 2019 letter as to why these allegations "must fail," the company notes that the male employee was hired with more background and experience for a lead off-premise coordinator position. The women's positions were off-premise coordinators. Bloomin' also stated that Outback wasn't the proper respondent to this matter since the workers were employed by OS Restaurant Services, a management company that provides staff and management to Outback restaurants, but said it would cooperate with the investigation.
In October 2018, the male employee decided such a role "was not going to work out for him." The company dissipated the lead position and rolled those duties into the management team's duties, but it is not noted whether his pay shifted after he and his female counterparts assumed the same duties. If those disparities were corrected, they were not outlined in Bloomin's response letter. Further, the female employees claim to have more experience and greater seniority over the male worker.
This isn't the first discrimination hurdle Bloomin' Brands has had to clear. In 2013, Outback Steakhouse was ordered to pay $65,000 and furnish other relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC. The company paid $19 million to settle a class lawsuit in 2009 alleging sex discrimination against thousands of women at hundreds of its corporately-owned restaurants nationwide — a much larger scale than the current suit encompasses. Perhaps more aligned with the current suit, in 2001 a former Outback employee was awarded $2.2 million for being paid "considerably less" than a male employee. With such a history, it's curious as to why the company wouldn't present the EEOC with a more comprehensive response to this recent issue as requested.
If Bloomin’ Brands is forced to pay up again this time around, it could have deeper implications. In a post-Me Too environment, the reputational damage could be worse than, for example, a 2001 case. Further, in the midst of a pandemic that has impacted sales at the company, there is less financial flexibility for lawsuit settlements.