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(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

McCormick & Schmick’s settles race discrimination suit for $1.3M

The owners of McCormick & Schmick’s and M&S Grill have agreed to pay $1.3 million to settle a long-running race discrimination suit, filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2008.

The suit alleged that the two Baltimore locations refused to hire black applicants for front-of-the-house positions — such as servers, bartenders and hosts — and that those who were hired were given less desirable work assignments.

The complaint also alleged that some of the company’s job opening descriptions “contained visual depictions of employees through use of human models that appear to be disproportionately or entirely non-racial minority persons,” deterring minority applicants.

The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in April 2008 against McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants Inc. and McCormick and Schmick Restaurant Corp. The company denies the allegations of discrimination, but agreed to a settlement after mediation by U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey.

The $1.3 million in monetary relief will go into a fund against which workers can make claims. Black employees who worked front-of-the-house positions at either or both of the two Baltimore restaurants between Jan. 1, 1998, and Jan. 1, 2010, or who unsuccessfully sought front-of-the-house positions during that time period, are eligible to make a claim.

If one or more eligible claimants applies for a vacant position at either restaurant during the two-year duration of the consent decree and meets all lawful qualifications for the position, McCormick & Schmick’s must offer the vacant position to the applicant, unless another applicant is more qualified, the settlement states. The agreement caps this requirement at 20 offers of employment to claimants.

“We are very pleased that McCormick & Schmick’s worked with us and the federal court mediator to craft a comprehensive settlement that will benefit all employees and applicants,” EEOC Philadelphia Regional Attorney Debra M. Lawrence said in a statement. “In addition to the monetary compensation for the class members, the extensive programmatic measures are designed to promote equal opportunity for black job applicants and workers.” Lawrence did not respond to a request for further comment.

An attorney for McCormick & Schmick’s deferred to a spokeswoman for Landry’s, the Houston-based parent company of McCormick & Schmick’s and M&S Grill. The spokeswoman did not respond prior to press time.

Under the terms of the settlement approved Friday, McCormick & Schmick’s also agreed to implement new hiring goals and recruiting efforts for both Baltimore restaurants and to file annual progress reports with the EEOC.

The efforts include advertising employment opportunities at a wider range of places, including historically black colleges like Morgan State University and Coppin State University. The company also will ensure that the percentage of black employees hired for open positions is at least equal to the percentage of black job applicants.

McCormick & Schmick’s agreed to conduct an annual review assessing its progress in achieving these goals and report detailed hiring information to the EEOC for the next two years.

The restaurants must also track and review work assignments for servers to look for racial disparities related to compensation. If a disparity is found, they must provide the EEOC with an explanation and steps taken to eliminate it, according to the settlement.

The case is EEOC v. McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants, Inc. and McCormick and Schmick Restaurant Corp., U.S. District Court No. WMN-09-CV-984.

About Lauren Kirkwood

Lauren Kirkwood covers the business of law beat at The Daily Record.