Cracker Barrel restaurants agreed upon Monday to modernize their training and management practices after the Justice Department accused the nation-style chain of widespread discrimination against black diners in approximately 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 customers who arrived later, and given poor service, the department said in announcing the settlement deal.
Managers allowed white servers to refuse to hold back on black patrons, and blacks were given less favorable treatment than whites when they complained about service, investigators found. Interviews with a large number of employees suggested that managers ”often directed, participated in, or condoned the discriminatory behavior,” the department said.
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, a chain located in Tennessee which includes 497 locations nationwide and is known for its country-style cooking and folksy retail shops, denied the accusations in a lawsuit that this Justice Department filed on Monday in Georgia. But in a binding agreement filed using the lawsuit, the company 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, and also the hiring of an outside auditor.
The agreement ”moves How much does breakfast cost at Cracker Barrel forward in a direction we were already moving,” said Julie Davis, a business spokeswoman. She stated that while Cracker Barrel failed to believe the accusations, it decided to the six-point plan partly to avoid ”protracted, distracting, costly, multiyear litigation.”
The laws under that the suit was brought did not enable the department to find money. But recently some 100 blacks have pressed discrimination claims and therefore are seeking money from your company in four lawsuits in Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and N . C .. Stores there as well as in Alabama, Louisiana and Virginia were subjects from the department investigation.
”It’s shocking that something such as this still happens forty years following the passage of civil rights legislation,” said Heidi Doerhoff, a Washington lawyer involved in the Arkansas and Mississippi lawsuits. ”It harkens returning to the back-of-the-bus management of African-Americans.”
Ms. Doerhoff said the widespread discrimination detected by the department was just like the experiences from the dozens of plaintiffs. One black employee in a Cracker Barrel in Mississippi stated that white waitresses kaiypp pay her $3 per table to provide their black customers, Ms. Doerhoff said. As well as a black diner claimed that as he complained to some 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 neglecting to aggressively pursue civil rights cases, especially those involving patterns of corporate misconduct, and 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, claimed that the agreement filed on Monday demonstrated the Justice Department’s resolve. ”Where we find evidence, since we did here, that individuals of the race are receiving anything less than full and equal access to public accommodations, we will act,” Mr. Acosta said. The N.A.A.C.P. and other civil rights advocates said that certain requirements imposed on Cracker Barrel sent a strong message but that this test in the company’s image will be if the plaintiffs won money.
”It’s unclear if this can be a big black eye,” said John Relman, a lawyer whose discrimination lawsuits from the Denny’s restaurant chain during the early 1990’s helped result in a $54 million settlement. ”What happens with those lawsuits will definitely decide if Cracker Barrel gains the kind of notoriety that Denny’s did.”