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Fire Mountain Restaurants / Ryan's Family Steakhouse Sued by EEOC for Age Discrimination

Employee Referred to as “Old Woman” and Subjected to Reduction of Hours, Discipline, Suspension and Termination, Federal Agency Charges 

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) today announced it has filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Fire Mountain Restaurants, LLC, doing business as Ryan’s Family Steakhouse.  The lawsuit charged that Ryan’s discriminated against Viola Brown when it reduced her hours, disciplined and suspended her, and finally fired her because of her age, then 79, and in retaliation for her complaints about age discrimination.  All of the claims in the lawsuit are alleged in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).

According to the EEOC’s lawsuit, in July 2009 and August 2009, Brown’s hours were reduced from an average of about 24 hours per week to as low as nine hours per week.  During this time period, a coworker told Brown that the restaurant’s general manager referred to Brown as an “old woman” and stated that she needed to retire.  In addition, the EEOC said that on or about Aug. 16, 2009, Ryan’s disciplined and suspended Brown for three days.  When Brown returned to work on Aug. 20, the general manager presented her with a disciplinary form and told her to sign it.  When Brown refused to sign the form, the general manager told Brown that she did not have a job and her employment was terminated.

The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Asheville Division (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Fire Mountain Restaurants, LLC d/b/a Ryan’s Family Steakhouse, Civil Action No. 1:11-CV-00275) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.  The agency seeks back pay and liquidated damages for Brown, as well as injunctive relief.  The agency also seeks compensatory and punitive damages for Brown for her retaliation claim.

“Too often age bias is an unlawful factor in employment decisions, and employers see older workers as dispensable,” said Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District.  “There is no excuse for firing an employee because of her age.  The EEOC is committed to using all available means, including litigation, to combat age discrimination.”

EEOC Supervisory Trial Attorney Tina Burnside, who is lead counsel on the case, added, “In light of the current economic conditions, older employees are opting not to retire and want to continue working, and it is unlawful under the ADEA for an employer to discriminate against such employees simply because of their age or because of the stereotype that they are ‘too old’ to work and need to retire.”

In fiscal year 2010, the EEOC received a total of 23,264 charges of age discrimination, which accounted for 23.3 percent of all charges filed with the EEOC nationwide.

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at