Cracker Barrel restaurants agreed upon Monday to modernize their training and management practices after the Justice Department accused the nation-style chain of extensive discrimination against black diners within 50 locations. A civil rights investigation found that black diners at Cracker Barrels in seven Southern states were routinely given tables apart from whites, seated after white clients who arrived later, and given low quality service, the department said in announcing the settlement.
Managers allowed white servers to refuse to wait on black patrons, and blacks received less favorable treatment than whites once they complained about service, investigators found. Interviews with dozens of employees suggested that managers ”often directed, participated in, or condoned the discriminatory behavior,” the department said.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, a chain situated in Tennessee which includes 497 locations nationwide and is renowned for its country-style cooking and folksy retail stores, denied the accusations in a lawsuit that the Justice Department filed on Monday in Georgia. Nevertheless in a contract filed with the lawsuit, the business agreed to wide-ranging steps to combat discrimination against black diners. One of them are new training programs, random testing by undercover diners, the posting of nondiscrimination statements on menus, as well as the hiring of your outside auditor.
The agreement ”moves www.allfoodmenuprices.org forward in a direction we were already moving,” said Julie Davis, a company spokeswoman. She stated that while Cracker Barrel did not believe the accusations, it consented to the six-point plan in part in order to avoid ”protracted, distracting, costly, multiyear litigation.”
The laws under which the suit was brought failed to enable the department to seek money. But lately some 100 blacks have pressed discrimination claims and therefore are seeking money from the company in four lawsuits in Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and N . C .. Stores there and then in Alabama, Louisiana and Virginia were subjects from the department investigation.
”It’s shocking that something such as this still happens forty years after the passage of civil rights legislation,” said Heidi Doerhoff, a Washington lawyer active in the Arkansas and Mississippi lawsuits. ”It harkens back to the rear-of-the-bus treatment of African-Americans.”
Ms. Doerhoff said the widespread discrimination detected through the department was just like the experiences in the dozens of plaintiffs. One black employee in a Cracker Barrel in Mississippi stated that white waitresses kaiypp pay her $3 per table to serve their black customers, Ms. Doerhoff said. As well as a black diner stated that when he complained to a manager that whites were treated better, he was told he should go to Burger King, she said.
Her one disappointment, Ms. Doerhoff said, was that Cracker Barrel ”is unwilling to admit that it’s done anything wrong.” ”They’re still fighting tooth and nail against each of the private plaintiffs,” she said. In past months, some civil rights advocates and Democrats in Congress have accused the Bush administration of failing to aggressively pursue civil rights cases, particularly those involving patterns of corporate misconduct, plus they said they worried that cases like Cracker Barrel’s were permitted to lag.
But R. Alexander Acosta, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, stated that the agreement filed on Monday demonstrated the Justice Department’s resolve. ”Where we find evidence, as we did here, that individuals of the race are receiving anything lower than full and equal access to public accommodations, we will act,” Mr. Acosta said. The N.A.A.C.P. as well as other civil rights advocates claimed that the requirements imposed on Cracker Barrel sent a solid message but that the test in the company’s image would be whether the plaintiffs won money.
”It’s unclear if this is a big black eye,” said John Relman, a lawyer whose discrimination lawsuits against the Denny’s restaurant chain during the early 1990’s helped lead to a $54 million settlement. ”What happens with those lawsuits will definitely determine whether Cracker Barrel gains the sort of notoriety that Denny’s did.”