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PRESS RELEASE
10-3-14

Oklahoma Chicken Express Franchiser to Pay $15,000 to Settle EEOC National Origin Discrimination Suit

Restaurants Exploited Class of Hispanic Cooks by Failing to Pay Overtime, Federal Agency Charged

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. - NSC Chicken, LP, dba Chicken Express, will pay $15,000 and furnish other relief to settle a national origin discrimination lawsuit filed on Sept. 30 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

According to the EEOC's suit, six Chicken Express franchise locations in Oklahoma systemically failed to pay Hispanic cooks at overtime wages as required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The EEOC said the cooks were singled out for the non-payment because of their Latin American national origin.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The lawsuit, EEOC v. NSC Chicken, LP, and a motion seeking court approval of the proposed consent decree settling the case were filed contemporaneously on Sept. 30 in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma (Civil Case No. 5:14-cv-1056-HE) after the EEOC first attempted to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process. The court approved the consent decree on Oct. 1.

The EEOC sought monetary relief for Kennedy Zapet, who filed the initial discrimination charge, and 11 other Hispanic employees who were victims of this practice. The EEOC and the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) cooperated in their investigation of Chicken Express's pay practices. During this cooperative investigation between the EEOC and the DOL and through a settlement with DOL, Chicken Express paid the affected employees back wages for their lost overtime.

The consent decree entered in the EEOC's suit provides an additional $15,000 payment to 12 employees. Chicken Express will also take action to prevent future discrimination, including changing the company's policy on setting wage and hour rates and overtime pay; posting an anti-discrimination notice to employees in Spanish and English; disseminating anti-discrimination policies to employees in Spanish and English; and providing anti-discrimination training to all management employees with supervisory responsibilities at each of the restaurants.

"This case is a stellar example of close cooperation between the EEOC and other federal agencies in investigating employer actions that violate statutes enforced by different agencies," said EEOC District Director James R. Neely, Jr. "Such cooperation ensures the efficient enforcement of all applicable federal laws concerning employment and maximizes the likelihood that victims will receive all the relief to which they are entitled."

EEOC Regional Attorney Andrea G. Baran said, "Although Chicken Express states it believed its pay policy was beneficial to Hispanic employees because they were assigned more work hours and claims it did not know such a practice violated the law, this policy resulted in lower wages for Latino workers. Employers cannot implement different pay schemes based on employees' national origin." Baran pointed out that the EEOC's website provides comprehensive information about the nation's employment discrimination laws and how to comply with them, including information for small businesses.

Eliminating discriminatory policies affecting vulnerable workers who may be unaware of their rights under equal employment laws or reluctant or unable to exercise them is one of six national priorities identified by the EEOC's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). These policies can include disparate pay, job segregation, harassment and human trafficking. Preventing workplace harassment through systemic litigation and investigation is another of the EEOC's six SEP national priorities.

The St. Louis District Office of the EEOC oversees Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and parts of Illinois. The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov