EEOC Files Age Discrimination Lawsuit Against New York City Restaurant

By Douglas Lipsky

In April, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against Hillstone Restaurant Group, Inc. alleging the company violated federal law by refusing to hire applicants aged 40 and over for front-out-the-house positions at its two New York City locations because of their age.

While the outcome of this lawsuit remains to be seen, it highlights the pervasiveness of age discrimination with respect to public-facing roles in the restaurant industry. If you suspect that you have been discriminated against because of your age, get in touch with an experienced employment lawyer today.

NYC Restaurant Refuses to Hire Older Applicants

Hillstone Restaurant Group is a family-owned business that operates about 40 upscale restaurants around the country, including Hillstone in Midtown and Park Avenue South. According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, Hillstone refused to hire highly qualified applicants 40 and older for front-facing positions – hosts, servers, and bartenders – at the two NYC locations. 

Senior managers allegedly rejected qualified applicants because they were “too old” or “not the demographic” Hillstone wanted to hire, according to the complaint. Instead, the company favored much younger, less qualified candidates. Such conduct violates the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which prohibits employers from making employment decisions (e.g. hiring, firing, compensating) based on age. 

The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York after the parties were unable to settle the claim through the EEOC’s conciliation process. The lawsuit seeks back pay and liquidated damages for the complainants, as well as injunctive relief to remedy and prevent age discrimination by Hillstone in the future. 

Age Discrimination Is Illegal

In addition to the ADEA, age discrimination is prohibited under the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). Notably, the ADEA only applies to employers with 20 or more employees. By contrast, the NYSHRL applies to employers with 4 or more employees while the NYCHRL applies to all employers, regardless of the number of employees.

To have a valid claim under federal and state law, a plaintiff must prove that but for the age of the employee/applicant, the employment action would not have occurred. The standard is lower under the NYCHRL; an employee or applicant need only prove they were treated less well because of their age.

Although employers know how to conceal their discriminatory motives, examples include:

  • Refusing to hire an older, qualified individual for a position
  • Denying training to an older employee
  • Promoting a younger worker over an older one
  • Pressuring or forcing an older employee to retire
  • Targeting older workers in a layoff

Despite the fact that age discrimination is illegal, it remains a persistent problem not only in the restaurant business but across multiple industries. If you have been treated less well than other employees because of your age contact an age discrimination attorney.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.