Complaint: Olive Garden Fired Philly Waitress Because She’s Pregnant

Courtnee Dean says she was fired from her job at the City Ave. Olive Garden in Bala Cynwyd because she was pregnant with her second child.

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A Philadelphia woman says she was fired from the Olive Garden on City Ave. in Bala because she was pregnant. Workplace advocates have filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the restaurant’s parent company, Darden Restaurants, on behalf of the Courtnee Dean, who had worked at that location for 10 years.

She writes on an online petition that she had been an employee at that Olive Garden location for almost 11 years. So far, more than 6,000 have signed.

Dean is seven months pregnant with her second child. “My goal with all of this is just to make sure that Darden doesn’t get away with treating women like this,” she said, “and that the company makes actual changes to prevent this from happening again.”

In the complaint with the EEOC, Dean says she was fired in October of last year after she lost a customer’s coupon. It was the first time she’d ever lost one. Employees who lost coupons were always given the option to reimburse Olive Garden for the lost coupons, but she was not given that opportunity.

“I offered to compensate for the coupon, but the manager … refused the money,” she writes on her petition. “Instead of following the customary procedure of writing me up or taking the money, she called corporate and had me terminated.” Dean says she was actually fired because she was pregnant. Two other employees who had also been placed on a “coupon watch list” were not fired, she says in the complaint. She’s asking for her job back, in addition to back pay.

The EEOC filing is part of a larger campaign against Darden Restaurants, which is also the parent of LongHorn Steakhouse, Seasons 52, The Capital Grille and other restaurants. Dignity at Darden, a group looking to improve pay and working conditions at Darden Restaurants, is supporting Dean in her filing. The group says many of the 6,000+ who have signed Dean’s petition work at the company. Darden did not respond to a request for comment, but in the past it has not commented on pending litigation.

“I was shocked that after 10 years of employment I’d be treated so unfairly by Olive Garden,” Dean said in a release. “It’s my hope that coming forward about my experience with pregnancy discrimination helps other women restaurant workers, especially at Olive Garden and other Darden restaurants, to have the courage to call out unfair treatment and seek support.”

Dean’s charge of discrimination filed with the EEOC paints a portrait of a corporate culture obsessed with servers losing coupons.

In June or July of 2014, I verbally notified my General Manager that I was pregnant. Over the course of the next few months, my co-workers and other supervisors also became aware that I was pregnant. In September 2014 I learned that I, along with two other employees, had been placed on a “coupon watch list.” I had never before been written up, or even informally reprimanded, for any issues relating to coupon usage or cash handling. In these ten years, I had never seen or heard of any type of “coupon watch list.”

While cashing out my tables during one of my shifts in early October 2014, I realized that I had lost a coupon a customer had given me. This was the first time I had ever lost a coupon and I immediately notified my manager of this. Based on the common practice I had observed in my store when other servers had lost coupons, I offered to pay for the lost coupon. My manager declined this offer and did not inform me of any disciplinary action that would be taken, if any, prior to me leaving for the day. Since I had witnessed that other servers who had lost coupons in the past had not been seriously disciplined, I assumed this would not become a big issue.

When I arrived at work a couple of days later for my next shift, my manager told me that I could not work until I talked to the General Manager about the coupon issue. I spoke to my General Manager later that day via telephone and he informed me that the matter was already in “corporate’s” hands. The General Manager called me the next day to terminate my position. I was not given any opportunity to inquire about or contest this decision.

My termination did not follow the practice I have witnessed throughout my ten years at Olive Garden. Normally, those employees who lose a coupon are given the opportunity to either pay for the coupon or to be written up. Furthermore, one is normally given three write-ups before being fired for any reason. In my case, they simply informed me in September 2014 that I was on a new type of “coupon watch list” and in October 2014 they terminated me without warning or any opportunity to contest this or provide payment for the one coupon I had lost over my ten plus years of employment.

Upon information and belief, two non-pregnant co-workers were also placed on the “coupon watch list” in September 2014 but, unlike me, neither was immediately terminated for this reason as I was.

Dean is represented by Jennifer Reisch, legal director of San Francisco-based Equal Rights Advocates, and Ryan Allen Hancock of Philadelphia firm of Willig, Williams & Davidson

“More than half of Darden’s 160,000 employees are women, most of whom will get pregnant at some point in their working lives. The company has a legal and moral obligation to treat its entire female workforce fairly,” Reisch said in a statement. “To demonstrate real commitment to equal opportunity, Darden must respond to Ms. Dean’s complaint and take steps to ensure that discrimination against pregnant workers is not tolerated in any of its restaurants.”

Olive Garden was in the news last year when an activist investor bashed Darden for how it handled the chain. (“As just one example, we believe lapsed discipline around Darden’s renowned unlimited salad and breadsticks offering has led to both high food waste and a worse experience,” Starboard Value said in its Power Point presentation.) After a drop, Darden stock has risen steadily since then.

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