Crab net

October 16, 1997|By Cal Thomas

MIAMI -- Big government is making a new attempt to impose itself as Big Brother or, in the case of a local restaurant, Big Sister.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was informed that Joe's Stone Crab restaurant, an 84-year-old family-owned Miami institution with 250 employees, had not hired any female ''waitpersons'' in four years.

Without a formal complaint by any individual alleging discrimination, the EEOC used Census data to persuade U.S. District Judge Court Daniel Hurley that a state of discrimination against women exists at Joe's. Last July, after a 10-year battle between the restaurant and the EEOC, the judge ruled that even though Joe's employs some women, it isn't enough -- based on the number of women living in the area.

Furthermore, said the judge, if Joe's doesn't come up with a way to hire more women, he will stop the restaurant from hiring anyone until it spells out in a study to be approved by him the qualifications necessary to wait on tables. Judge Hurley issued a procedure for hiring future employees.

Between 1991 and 1995, 19 of the 88 persons employed at Joe's were women. Attorneys for Joe's say they've never discriminated and that the numbers used by the court are not correct. The restaurant faces a liability trial next year to determine damages.

During the restaurant's annual hiring session, known as Roll Call, a retired Dade County judge was appointed by the court to monitor the event. With him as ''observers'' were an EEOC attorney, two industrial psychologists and two attorneys for Joe's.

At last week's Roll Call, women made up just 20 percent of the crowd, compared to 35 percent of last year's applicants. Each applicant was photographed, in compliance with another court ruling.

Restaurant lawyer Robert Soloff says the court has established quotas by using Census data. He says federal civil rights law does not require employers to attempt to correct a discrepancy between the gender of its work force and the community in which a business operates.

''All you can do as an employer is to not discriminate when they show up,'' said Mr. Soloff. In the days when Joe's and its owners were younger, perhaps. But this is the '90s and your government will decide what discrimination looks like and prescribe the remedy.

This is material for stand-up comedy, not serious law.

If the EEOC and the federal courts get away with imposing the restaurant equivalent of busing, your business could be next.

Joe's female owner, Jo Ann Bass, says, ''We are simply baffled at the manner in which government has intruded in our business.'' Congress should hold hearings to clarify the authority of the EEOC and the courts.

Meanwhile, the restaurant opened on Monday. Employees are wearing buttons saying ''I'm U.S. Government-Approved.''

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 10/16/97

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