Why a Chicago restaurant agreed to hire more African Americans

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(This post originally appeared on The Washington Post)

Rosebud is a well-known and popular Italian restaurant brand with eight locations in the Chicago area and many loyal customers, including celebrities, politicians and global leaders.  The restaurant’s founder – a “legendary Chicago restauranteur” named Alex Dana – believes that “you can’t look back if you want to move ahead” and has built the business from a single location in Chicago’s Little Italy to a chain of eateries that “has been woven into the very fabric of Chicago,” according to their website.

There’s just one problem. Some claim they didn’t seem to be hiring black people.

This concern was brought to the attention of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission back in 2013 after complaints came in that the restaurant was not hiring African-Americans at many of its locations.  The investigation, according to this report in Crain’s, looked at a pool of 25,000 job applications made to the restaurant. Only 320 African-Americans were identified and none were hired.  Investigators suspected the numbers are worse, but couldn’t prove these theories due to incomplete or missing information.

The original lawsuit, according to a 2013 report from Chicago’s CBS local affiliate, claimed that Dana had “expressed a preference not to hire black job applicants” and as a result, few black individuals are employed at Defendants’ restaurants; indeed, at the time the underlying charge of discrimination was filed, most of Defendants’ restaurants had no black employees.”

A subsequent breach-of-contract lawsuit filed by the company’s former chief executive soon after the EEOC filing also claimed an “an extreme hostile, harassing and even discriminatory work environment at some of the locations,” according to another Crain’s article.

The restaurant chain, which said it has never tolerated discrimination, agreed to settle the EEOC matter by not only paying $1.9 million to the African-Americans who were allegedly denied jobs but to also provide training, post notices and regularly report back to the agency on its compliance. More importantly, management agreed to step up its recruiting efforts with the aim of increasing the number of black employees to 11 percent of the company’s total employment. Reports are unclear how that number was determined.

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