With the settlement of a racially centered lawsuit yesterday, clear skies are unfolding for immigrants working as busboys and runners in New York’s high-end dinning industry. The case, which accused celebrity chef Daniel Boulud (pictured) of discriminating against non-white workers at his famed Restaurant Daniel (but which also has potential to set an example for all NYC restaurants), was settled with an undisclosed financial compensation and several anti-racist measures to be enacted. The actions will be supervised by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the state attorney general’s office, and will include setting up standards and procedures for promotions, raising busboy and runner pay by 8 percent and training managers in racial sensitivity.
Rekcha Eanni, a project coordinator for the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC) who has helped organize protests at the restaurant in question told the Press, “This will help make the ladder from busboy to more important positions like waiter and bartender easier to climb for people of color in New York.” Her statement emphasizes the long-standing issue of ethnicity in the haute cuisine business: While European immigrants advance through the restaurant hierarchy, many of their equally skilled Latin and Southeast Asian counterparts remain confined to lower-paying positions. “A lot of times people think it’s sophisticated to hear a waiter with an Italian or French accent, whereas one with a Bangladeshi or Spanish accent is not that appealing,” Eanni adds.
The case dates back to 2005, when seven workers filed discrimination charges against Boulud with the EEOC. As negotiations seemed to break down, demonstrations by the ROC were held on a weekly basis (one of them included a group of forty people who marched into the restaurant during dinner time). The chef then sued the organization for defamation and harassment, alleging an unfair smearing of his restaurants’ highly praised image. But he dropped all charges as yesterday’s agreement came into play. Content with Boulud’s measures, the ROC pledged not to hold rallies at any of his restaurants for at least the next five years. So dine away.