Workers say racism’s on Daniel menu December 10, 2006Posted by C.A.R.D in Card, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, Discriminate, Discrimination, Racism, Racist.
Eating at Daniel, the celebrity-filled four-star French restaurant on the upper East Side, will cost you a pretty penny. It is, after all, an elegant and sophisticated place, and its owner, Daniel Boulud, is an award-winning chef who has become as famous as his customers.
Apparently, Boulud also can be a foul-mouthed tyrant who often loudly berates his minority employees with streams of obscenities. At least, that’s what seven Daniel’s workers allege in a lawsuit filed last Tuesday in Manhattan Federal Court.
The Latino and Bangladeshi busboys and runners accuse Boulud and the restaurant’s managers of racial discrimination and harassment.
They also say that restaurant management failed to pay two of the plaintiffs, a busboy and a prep cook, federal and state minimum wages and overtime pay despite the fact that they worked more than 40 hours a week.
According to the workers, what happens behind the scenes at Daniel is not pretty. They claim in the lawsuit that managers made insulting comments about Latino and Bangladeshi employees’ race and ethnicity.
In one example, the suit claims that Boulud and other managers called a prep cook named José Gómez a “f—–g Hispanic” or “f—–g Spanish.” But that’s not all.
The complaint also claims that Boulud told Daniel’s workers he didn’t want the “Mexican Mafia” – whatever that means – at his posh restaurant, and did not want any Spanish spoken, only French and English.
Even worse, the French celebrity chef held back his Latino and Bangladeshi employees in low-paying, physically exhausting jobs, consistently denying them promotions to better positions of captain, assistant captain and lounge server, the suit alleges.
At the same time, the complainants say, white workers with less experience, seniority and qualifications were promoted to those jobs. The reason for such discrimination is that the white workers supposedly fit the image of the upscale restaurant, the lawsuit says.
“In my two years at Daniel, I was never able to receive a promotion even though I trained white workers who got those positions,” said José Arenas, a Mexican who is a former busser at Daniel. “In fact, most of us never received any promotions at all because we were Latino and Bangladeshi.”
Bad as it is, what happens at Daniel is far from unique.
“What makes this lawsuit so important is that this kind of discrimination doesn’t happen only at Daniel but is actually a very common practice in the city,” said Saru Jayaraman, executive director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, an immigrant workers’ group that organizes restaurant workers in the city.
And she added: “They promote white workers who ‘fit a certain image,’ and hold back workers of color. The employees promoted can make four or five times more than those kept in low-paying jobs.”
The lawsuit states the workers’ case very clearly: “Daniel’s promotion practices reveal a two-track system whereby managers give white workers greater opportunities to move quickly to higher-paying, higher-status positions while denying those opportunities to Latino and Bangladeshi workers, who remain in the lower-paying and more physically demanding busser and runner positions.”
The seven complaining workers, all members of ROC-NY, are represented by the Legal Defense and Education Fund and Main Street Legal Services of the CUNY School of Law. The Dynex Group, owner of Daniel together with Boulud, never answered our call.
Daniel is “the personal expression of its chef and owner,” says the restaurant’s Web site. Including, one presumes, how workers are treated.