Cracker Barrel restaurants agreed upon Monday to upgrade their training and management practices right after the Justice Department accused the nation-style chain of wide-spread discrimination against black diners in about 50 locations. A civil rights investigation learned 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 hold back on black patrons, and blacks received 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 situated in Tennessee which has 497 locations nationwide and is known for its country-style cooking and folksy retail shops, denied the accusations in a lawsuit the Justice Department filed on Monday in Georgia. But in a binding agreement filed using the lawsuit, the company consented to wide-ranging steps to combat discrimination against black diners. And this includes 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 had been already moving,” said Julie Davis, a company spokeswoman. She said that while Cracker Barrel failed to believe the accusations, it agreed to the six-point plan to some extent 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 through the company in four lawsuits in Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and North Carolina. Stores there and then in Alabama, Louisiana and Virginia were subjects in the department investigation.
”It’s shocking that something such as this still happens 4 decades after the passage of civil rights legislation,” said Heidi Doerhoff, a Washington lawyer involved in the Arkansas and Mississippi lawsuits. ”It harkens to your back-of-the-bus treatment of African-Americans.”
Ms. Doerhoff said the widespread discrimination detected from the department was similar to the experiences of the lots of plaintiffs. One black employee with a Cracker Barrel in Mississippi said that white waitresses kaiypp pay her $3 per table to provide their black customers, Ms. Doerhoff said. Along with a black diner stated that as he complained to a manager that whites were treated better, he was told he ought to 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 all 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 also said they worried that cases like Cracker Barrel’s were allowed 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 discover evidence, while we did here, that individuals for any race are receiving anything less than full and equal use of public accommodations, we shall act,” Mr. Acosta said. The N.A.A.C.P. along with other civil rights advocates claimed that the requirements imposed on Cracker Barrel sent a solid message but the test in the company’s image would be whether the plaintiffs won money.
”It’s unclear if this is a huge black eye,” said John Relman, a legal representative 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 really see whether Cracker Barrel gains the type of notoriety that Denny’s did.”