On Tuesday, December 29, 2009, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) announced that Outback Steakhouse (“Outback”) agreed to pay $19 million to settle a class action lawsuit alleging sex discrimination against thousands of women at hundreds of corporately-owned restaurants. In September 2006, the EEOC filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 alleging that Outback discriminated against women with respect to their terms and conditions of employment and denied women equal opportunity for advancement. Specifically, the EEOC alleged that female employees hit a “glass ceiling,” could not get promoted to higher profit-sharing management positions and were denied favorable job assignments. (EEOC v. Outback Steakhouse of Florida Inc. and OS Restaurants Partners Inc. d/b/a Outback Restaurants, No. 06-cv-1935, )

In addition to the $19 million settlement, Outback entered into a four-year consent decree that requires it to institute an online application system for employees interested in management and supervisory positions, employ a human resource executive in a newly created position of Vice President of People, employ an outside consultant who will determine compliance and analyze data from the online system to ensure women are being provided equal opportunities for promotion and report every six months to the EEOC on carrying out the terms of the decree.

As 2010 opens, all employers should consider reviewing their risk reduction strategies related to sex discrimination and other forms of discrimination. For example, have: (1) anti-harassment training been scheduled for managers and supervisors, (2) the employee handbook been updated recently to reflect actual company practices and procedures, especially with regards to requesting, documenting, and approving various leaves of absence and (3) the Family and Medical leave policy been revised to include the 2009 law changes?