‘It’s humiliating’ | Bowlero faces $80mn in lawsuits from ex-employees who claim they were fired for being too old

Bowlero faces $80mn in lawsuits from ex-employees who claim they were fired for being too old

Bowlero, the world’s largest bowling center operator, is facing dozens of individual age discrimination lawsuits after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) closed its nine-year investigation.

The attorney representing over 70 employees – who say they were fired due to their age or their plans to sue the company – stated on Monday that while the EEOC has closed its case, the individual claimants now plan to exercise their right to sue.

The EEOC launched its investigation into the bowling alley behemoth in 2016 after employees alleged they were sacked for being too old as the company sought to transform its brand into a sophisticated bowling experience.

Bowlero has repeatedly denied the accusations and confirmed in its third-quarter filings that the EEOC has closed its case and will not investigate the matter further.

“The Company has received positive updates on the status of the age discrimination claims that had been pending with the EEOC … the EEOC issued Closure Notices for the individual age discrimination charges that had been filed, in most cases, many years ago with the EEOC,” Bowlero has stated in a press release.

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In an earnings call on Monday, CEO Thomas Shannon highlighted hopes that the EEOC closure notices would give Bowlero a fresh start.

“Over eight-and-a-half years, the company has vigorously denied and contested the false allegations made against it,” he explained. “We are pleased to report these very positive developments on behalf of our shareholders.” 

However, the embattled bowling operator’s woes are far from over. The EEOC has warned Bowlero that while its investigation is closed, the decision does not clear it of wrongdoing.

“By terminating the handling of this case, the Commission does not certify that [Bowlero] is in compliance,” said a letter from the EEOC to Bowlero sent on Friday. “Also, our termination of the investigation does not affect the rights of any aggrieved persons to file a private lawsuit or the Commission’s right to sue later or intervene later in a private civil action.”

In its statement, Bowlero also acknowledges that the notices “provide the claimants, as a matter of course, with an individual right to sue.” But the bowling company’s lawyers have said the company will “defeat those claims.”

The EEOC’s investigation found that discrimination had occurred in 58 of the complaints, with the rest still pending upon closure. It also found a “pattern or practice” suggesting that age discrimination had been a systemic issue at Bowlero since 2013.

In January 2023, the EEOC attempted, and failed, to settle the complaints with Bowlero for $60 million.

Daniel Dowe, a lawyer representing over 70 former Bowlero workers, has stated he asked the EEOC to close the investigation to allow individuals to pursue their own suits. Following the notices, he now plans to file individual lawsuits for each of the claimants seeking monetary damages.

Speaking to CNBC, Dowe said he plans to sue Bowlero for $80million plus legal fees. “Most of what you hear about in discrimination cases is about race and gender, but age is awful because people are at the end of their careers, they can’t go back to college and retool,” he stated. “It’s humiliating, it kind of ends their life in a disaster.”

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