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Restaurant case cited as regulatory overreach ends in mistrial

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A lawsuit often cited as an example of federal authorities overreaching in their regulation of the restaurant business ended in a mistrial on Friday, but the presiding judge has already disclosed her intentions to convene a retrial.

The suit alleges that the Texas Roadhouse casual-dining chain systematically discriminated against older job applicants. The action was unique in that it was filed by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, not employees who felt they had been wronged and had filed a complaint. The EEOC subsequently solicited persons who felt they might have been victims, adding some 55 plaintiffs.

Typically in a discrimination lawsuit involving the agency, the EEOC joins a group of aggrieved employees in pursuing an action, not vice versa.

At the time the matter was filed in 2011, Texas Roadhouse asked for the instances of discrimination. It learned that the lawsuit was based in part on statistics showing that fewer than 2% of the chain’s front-of-the-house employees were over age 40.

The EEOC also noted that only young people were depicted in Texas Roadhouse’s recruitment and training materials.

Texas Roadhouse has countered that older people are not as eager to seek nighttime hours, nor the income typical of the chain’s servers. The waiters and waitresses are also required to line dance during their shifts, a standard operating procedure that might not appeal to older persons.

A jury hearing the monthlong case in the U.S. District Court in Boston reported to Judge Denise Casper that it had failed three times to decide unanimously for either the plaintiffs or Texas Roadhouse.

Casper declared a mistrial, but set a date to start a retrial on May 15. 

A mistrial in a civil matter often spurs the parties to seek a settlement rather than undergo another costly and time-consuming trial. But Texas Roadhouse has vowed to continue litigating the case, saying it feels an obligation to protect its brand.

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