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Why This Indian Restaurant Was Fined for Trying to Hire an Indian Waiter

Two years ago, a restaurant called Shalom Bombay placed an ad for an “experienced Indian waiter or waitress.” The long arm of the law reached out and filed a complaint.
July 30, 2015, 10:30pm
Photo via Flickr user tmab2003

Nothing says buon appetito quite like a dead-eyed and heavily lisped Serbian waiter wearing a "Where's the Beef?" t-shirt. Which brings about the point that pretty much no one is surprised to find an Italian, or seemingly Italian server, at an Italian restaurant. In fact, one might even be so bold as to expect it—or, at the very least, appreciate it.

Somehow, having a waiter with the appropriate accent seems to enhance the sense that the entire gustatory experience is authentic. Hell, it may even make the food taste better (there's probably a study that's been done on that—and if not, you're welcome, fat cat researchers).

But at the moment, one New York City Indian restaurant probably disagrees that Indian food should be served by Indian waiters. Because they learned the hard way.

READ: There's a Scientific Reason Why Indian Food Is So Delicious

New York City recently fined a Midtown Indian restaurant $5,000 for placing an advertisement that mentioned that they looking for a waiter or waitress who is Indian. The problem: It is against the law to run an advertisement for a job that discriminates based on national origin.

New York City's Commission on Human Rights apparently scans Craigslist looking for restaurant hiring practices that offend the law. Posting an ad for a "waitress" instead of "wait-person" can be actionable gender discrimination. They also look for advertisements that may exclude applicants based on race or nationality.

Two years ago, a restaurant called Shalom Bombay, then located on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, placed an ad for an "experienced Indian waiter or waitress."

The long-arm of the law reached out and filed a complaint. The trial was scheduled for April 15, 2015 at the city's administrative court. As fate would have it, though, by the time the date of the trial rolled around, the restaurant had been out of business for a year.

After hearing the sad story, the judge imposed a reduced fine of $5,000 dollars—significantly less than the Commission's recommended $7,500.

"There was a discriminatory advertisement, but there was no additional proof that respondents refused to hire otherwise qualified applicants," said the court documentation. Furthermore, "There was no complaint from the public, there was no evidence of how many people viewed the posting, and there was no direct evidence that any qualified applicant was turned away."

Discrimination laws—in advertising and hiring—serve an important purpose. After all, sex discrimination and racial bias in restaurants is a long and sorry story.

But prohibiting so-called "ethnic" restaurants from hiring wait staff of their own ethnic background may be taking things a bit too far. According to The New York Post, following an inquiry by the newspaper, the city's Commission on Human Rights said it is assessing its practices and looking into a change of tactics.

"The commission's new leadership, as of February 2015, is currently assessing its investigatory strategy to implement more comprehensive and strategic investigations to proactively root out systemic discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations and expand the commission's testing programs in these areas," the spokesperson told The Post.

Editor's note: Since publishing, the New York City Commission on Human Rights has clarified that they did not fine the aforementioned restaurant. The fine was recommended by an Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings judge and the case is currently being heard by the Commission on Human Rights.