EEOC sues Hooters for alleged racial discrimination

The watchdog agency says White "Hooters Girls" were hired before Black waitresses when a unit restaffed as the COVID crisis eased.
A Hooters unit and its staff. | Photo: Shutterstock

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued Hooters of America for allegedly rehiring White and light-skinned “Hooters Girls” ahead of Black and dark-skinned waitresses when the chain’s Greenville, N.C., restaurant restaffed after the first COVID-19 wave.

The EEOC says 43 employees of the unit were laid off in March 2020 as governments shut down most public facilities, including restaurant dining rooms, to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Business picked up enough by May of that year for the unit to rehire 13 of the furloughed workers. Twelve of them were White or light-skinned, according to the agency.

The restaffing dropped the percentage of Black and dark-skinned waitresses working at the Greenville restaurant down to 8%, from a pre-COVID level of 51%, the EEOC said.

“When recalling employees from a layoff, it is critical that employers examine their selection criteria to ensure they are objectively verifiable and free from racial bias,” Melinda Dugas, regional attorney for the EEOC's Charlotte, N.C., district, said in a statement. “Federal law protects employees from race-based decision making in the terms of employment, including in layoff, recall and hiring decisions.”

The agency is seeking compensatory and punitive compensation for the affected workers.

Hooters' hiring practices have been blasted before by federal regulators as discriminatory. One of the brand's signatures is its wide use of women in revealing outfits to serve customers. The chain has developed a second concept, called Hoots, that uses male as well as female servers. 

The chain consists of 410 restaurants in 38 states and 24 countries.

Millions of restaurant employees were laid off during the early months of the pandemic because dining out dropped to nil. Restaurants that remained open survived largely on takeout and delivery sales.

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