U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sues Panda Restaurant Group, alleging that it treated its Latino workers differently from its Asian workers at one of its San Jose, California, Panda Express restaurants

WASHINGTON , August 22, 2011 () – Chinese fast food restaurant chain Panda Restaurant Group violated federal law by treating its Latino employees differently from Asian workers at one of its San Jose restaurants, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

According to the EEOC, the general manager of the Panda Express located on El Paseo de Saratoga gave less desirable assignments to Hispanic workers, reduced their hours and held them to a different standard of performance. Aremy Lomely and other Hispanic workers who worked as counter help were required to clean the bathroom, tables and counters, while Asian employees were permitted to simply stand around and watch, said the federal agency. In addition, the EEOC found that the general manager disciplined Latino employees in a stricter, harsher and more frequent manner than Asian employees for similar infractions.

“[The general manager’s] treatment of Mexican workers really divided us from the Asian workers,” said Lomely. “I felt so ashamed when the Asian workers watched me obediently run from the bathroom to the tables to the counters, cleaning when they did not have to. For months, he treated me like a worthless employee, disciplining me for things he would never hold against his non-Hispanic food line servers. It is such a relief to know that the law says this is not OK.”

Discrimination based on national origin violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. After first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through conciliation, the EEOC filed the lawsuit EEOC v. Panda Express, Inc. in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, seeking monetary damages on behalf of the Hispanic workers, training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the work site and other measures to prevent future discrimination.

EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo said, “Favoring employees of one ethnicity over another is not only illegal but undermines the benefits of a diverse work force. The law, as well as common sense, requires employers to base employment decisions on the skills, experience and merit of individual employees instead of national origin or ancestry.”

Michael Baldonado, the EEOC’s San Francisco District Director, added, “Although the company had a written policy against discrimination, clearly there was a failure to implement it. We hope this lawsuit will send two clear messages: For employers, train your supervisors to prevent discrimination and be sure that your written policy is taken seriously. For workers, particularly immigrants and newcomers who may not be as familiar with their rights, we hope this case will encourage people to stand up for their rights and to report discrimination.”

According to the company website, www.pandarg.com, the privately-held Panda Restaurant Group has headquarters in Rosemead, Calif., and employs over 18,000 workers companywide at 1,200 locations in 36 states, under the brands Panda Express, Panda Inn and Hibachi-San.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.

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