Winter 2020

Image of Bread Rolls photo by Alexander Schimmeck

Nora FitzGerald Meldrum, ’99: ‘Legendary’ Legal Service at Texas Roadhouse

Nora Meldrum headshot
Nora FitzGerald Meldrum, ’99

“Legendary food, legendary service” is the mission statement of the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain. And for in-house lawyer Nora FitzGerald Meldrum, ’99, legendary legal service is what she aspires to provide to the company and its nearly 60,000 employees.

“Although we aren’t serving up steaks in the legal department, we are definitely in the hospitality business,” says Meldrum, the associate general counsel of litigation and employment at the Louisville, Kentucky-based Texas Roadhouse. “And we want to provide our legal services in a legendary way so that our clients feel positive about their interactions with the litigation team. For us, it’s not just about what we do but how we do it.”

Meldrum has worked at Texas Roadhouse—which is known as much for its freshly baked rolls and cinnamon butter as it is for the bucket of peanuts at each table—for nearly eight years, and she isn’t shy about calling it her dream job. “I love the people, and I love the work,” she says. “It’s the optimal combination of great people and interesting legal issues.”

Meldrum says the company’s four core values—passion, partnership, integrity, and fun with purpose—make her feel invested in her work. “When you’re in-house and you’re living with and among your client, it’s a different level of connection,” she says. “And I couldn’t imagine doing what I do for a brand that I was not proud to fight for every day.”

There are only 20 people on the Texas Roadhouse legal team, and Meldrum leads a team of five that focuses on litigation and dispute resolution. With approximately 575 Texas Roadhouse locations in 49 states and 10 countries, the legal issues Meldrum tackles are as varied as the company’s employees. She says that if an issue is making headlines—whether it’s sexual harassment or bathroom accessibility—it’s a good bet that Texas Roadhouse, along with the restaurant industry as a whole, is addressing that issue in some way. “We have multiple growing concepts, we make scratch-based food, we serve alcohol, we invite the general public onto our premises, and we employ about 60,000 people,” Meldrum says. “Somewhere in that mix there are bound to be legal issues.”

One of the more serious litigation issues that Meldrum has been involved with was a class-action age discrimination lawsuit brought against Texas Roadhouse in 2011 by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The lawsuit alleged the restaurant chain had a nationwide systemic practice of not hiring workers ages 40 and older for certain front-of-the-house positions, such as host, server, or bartender. The case—which gave Meldrum the opportunity to work with fellow Michigan Law alumnus Eric Olson, ’00, who served as the company’s co-lead trial counsel—went to trial in 2017 and resulted in a hung jury. Both parties agreed to settle the case with a $12 million consent decree.

“It was a very contentious, heavily litigated matter that took many years to wind its way through to trial,” Meldrum says. “It required a lot of time and attention and a ton of travel. And we had to be able to execute on it while also providing legendary service on much smaller legal matters at the same time. I felt very lucky to have a strong team because we could all pitch in in different ways.”

Pitching in is what Meldrum was required to do when she was first hired at Texas Roadhouse. She traded in her business suits for the Texas Roadhouse uniform of jeans and a T-shirt, and received training on every position in the restaurant, from cutting steak with the on-site meat cutter to serving drinks behind the bar. Though she was out of her comfort zone, Meldrum says it gave her an operational perspective of the business that allows her to more effectively represent the company. “If I could spend more time in our stores, I would, because it’s always a bucket filler. It helps me remember what we’re here for.”