updated 9/29/2006 4:48:11 PM ET 2006-09-29T20:48:11

The Outback Steakhouse restaurant chain was sued Friday by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which accused the company of denying women job opportunities and training needed to reach top management jobs.

The federal lawsuit accuses the restaurant chain, owned by Tampa-based OSI Restaurant Partners, Inc., of denying women opportunities to be hired or promoted into management positions.

To be considered for top management jobs at the company’s restaurants, workers need to have varied assignments, especially in the kitchen, the suit states. But qualified women were denied those posts and passed over for less qualified male workers.

“This case is interesting because it turns on its head the stereotype that women should ’stay in the kitchen,”’ Mary Jo O’Neill, Regional Attorney for the EEOC’s Phoenix District, said in a statement. “Apparently, when being in the kitchen leads to a lucrative position, women suddenly no longer are welcome.”

Company executives were not immediately available for comment but were said to be preparing a response.

The EEOC is a federal agency charged with enforcing employment laws.

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