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Cracker Barrel Settles Bias Suit

By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer

Cracker Barrel restaurants will expand sensitivity training for employees as part of an agreement to settle a government investigation of customers' racial discrimination claims, the company and Justice Department announced last week 

In the consent decree, Cracker Barrel did not admit any wrongdoing and will pay no fines or penalties, spokeswoman Julie Davis said.

"This moves us forward in a direction we were already going," Davis said. "It allows both sides to avoid protracted and costly litigation."

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., based in Lebanon, Tenn., has been the target of several lawsuits filed by black customers who say they received poor service compared with white patrons. Their claims include exceedingly long waits for tables and being segregated in restaurants.

The discriminatory practices took place over five years in about 50 restaurants scattered across seven Southern states, federal officials said. In all, the chain has 497 locations in 41 states. In many cases, the government alleged, restaurant managers allowed a practice known as "table-switching," in which white servers who objected to waiting on blacks traded tables with other servers.

The agreement has no direct effect on those lawsuits, Davis said. But it does require the chain's employees to undergo expanded racial diversity training and improves procedures to investigate patrons' complaints.

The company also will hire an outside firm that will send undercover customers into restaurants to check on Cracker Barrel employees.
"We do not tolerate any form of discrimination," said Donald M. Turner, Cracker Barrel president and chief operating officer. "It is, and always has been, a violation of our policies and procedures and is neither condoned nor allowed."

The $440 billion restaurant industry continues to be a lightning rod for discrimination cases. Last month, eight black customers in the Atlanta area filed a federal lawsuit against Waffle House, claiming racial discrimination. And, despite major progress, Denny's has yet to fully recover from a 1993 racial bias class-action suit.

Now, it's Cracker Barrel's turn.

At 36 restaurants, investigators found alleged evidence that black customers were seated in segregated areas, said a Justice official who asked not to be identified. In 18 of those locations, the official said, managers allegedly directed the segregated seating arrangements. In one location, employees referred to the black seating area as "the ghetto."
"To discriminate on the basis of race tramples our nation's promise of equality," Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta said.
Cracker Barrel operates 497 restaurants in 41 states. It had had $1.9 billion in sales last year.






 

 

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