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EEOC suit against Rosebud should serve as warning to eateries: Mitchell

Updated: October 20, 2013 7:44AM

VIPs love to be seen in venues like the Rosebud restaurants.

Judges and politicians relax at the white linen-topped tables. Business people sip wine with their important clients. Celebrities drop in after hours.

And Rosebud also is where ordinary Chicagoans take their out-of-town guests for a taste of the city’s ambience.

So the racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the popular eatery by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Tuesday was a bombshell.

The suit alleges that Rosebud Restaurants Inc., which operates more than a dozen “Rosebuds” in the Chicago area, has refused to hire African Americans in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

An investigation by the EEOC determined that “company managers, including Rosebud owner Alex Dana . . . preferred not to hire African Americans to work in the company’s restaurants,” the agency said in a news release.

The investigation also found that “Dana and other managers used racial slurs to refer to blacks.”

Rosebud’s owner and founder denied the allegations.

“We have not, do not and will not tolerate discrimination of any type toward employees or applicants,” the restaurant’s owner said in a written statement.

He also pointed out that Rosebud Restaurants “has proudly” served the Chicagoland community for more than three decades.

“We consider it our mission to treat our employees as family — with honesty and respect — and we are proud of our employment record and the diversity of our work force,” he said.

Frankly, I can’t wait to hear what Dana means by “diversity?”

According to the suit, the company “has failed to recruit and hire African Americans.”

The lawsuit alleges, in part, that owner Alex Dana and the other defendants expressed a preference not to hire black job applicants, and “few black individuals” are employed at the restaurants.

“[I]ndeed at the time of the underlying charge of discrimination was filed, most of Defendants’ restaurants had no black employees,” according to the lawsuit.

This is why I get riled up when I hear from people who claim black people just don’t want to work. Here we are a half-century after the March on Washington, and the EEOC is still alleging racial bias in the workplace.

Frankly, this EEOC suit should set a fire under other upscale restaurants that have no black faces.

It is still rare to see a black person waiting on tables at expensive restaurants where tips are lucrative. But black workers are plentiful at the fast-food restaurants where tips aren’t even an option.

So the lack of diversity in the restaurant industry also is an economic issue that has surfaced in other cities as well.

For instance, this is what New York’s bureau chief for civil rights in the New York State attorney general’s office told the New York Times in 2000:

“For anyone who eats in high-end restaurants in Manhattan, it is impossible to ignore the fact that there is very little, if any, diversity in many, many restaurants,” Andrew G. Celli Jr. said.

“It’s really in your face.”

The president of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, Lloyd A. Williams, told the publication, “[T]here is no question that blacks are being discriminated against as waiters and waitresses.”

Unfortunately, in Chicago, many of us don’t see the problem even though it’s in our faces.

We walk into a restaurant with an all-white staff, eat a delicious meal, leave a nice tip, and drive home satisfied.

Yet, Chicago is supposed to be a world-class city — not some backwards town where people accept racism as part of the culture.

Although I expect this case will settle before trial, I really would like to hear Dana’s defense.

After all, there are 2.7 million people living in Chicago, and 31.5 percent are African-American, according to the latest U.S. Census data.

How will a restaurant that has hired 900 people in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs explain why there were few blacks hired? How does this profitable, long-standing Chicago business explain why it came to the attention of a federal agency?

Chicago’s black unemployment is the third-highest in the country, according media reports. That explains, in part, why the city has had a difficult time ending violence. If Rosebud discriminated against blacks in hiring, it is a big part of the city’s problems.


Twitter: @MaryMitchellCST

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