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San Jose Panda Express Sued for Discrimination: Allegedly Favored Asian Employees

Panda Express's famed orange chicken

T. NguyenPanda Express's famed orange chicken

Maybe that orange chicken doesn't taste so great after all: Last week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit against a San Jose location of Panda Express for allegedly discriminating against the store's Latino employees and violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

After an employee brought the claim to the EEOC, the federal agency investigated the store for potential violations. The investigation confirmed the employee's claims that, between mid-2008 and mid-2009, the then-general manager at the San Jose store "gave less desirable assignments" to the store's Latino employees, saving the more desirable tasks for the store's Asian employees. The agency alleges that the store's Latino employees "who worked as counter help were required to clean the bathrooms, tables and counters, while Asian employees were permitted to simply stand around and watch."

According to the agency's press release, one of the store's employees, Aremy Lomely, "felt so ashamed when the Asian workers watched me obediently run from the bathroom to the tables to the counters, cleaning when they did not have to."

The EEOC also claims that the store manager exhibited a pattern of disparate disciplinary action, meting out harsher discipline to the Latino employees than to their Asian colleagues who committed the same types of infractions.

Under Title VII, those working in companies with more than 15 employees are protected from employer discrimination based on their national origin, ethnicity (real or perceived), or accent. As with the other protected classes in Title VII (race, color, religion, and sex), the prohibition against national origin discrimination applies to all qualified employees regardless of their citizenship statues. It also protects employees in a number of workplace situations, including, as here, discrimination in job assignments and discipline.

Since the incidents, the store apparently changed its management and operations have improved. Nonetheless, the EEOC is seeking monetary damages on behalf of those who were discriminated against during the time period at issue, as well as a court order requiring the store to undergo anti-discrimination training.