Cracker Barrel restaurants agreed Monday to change their training and management practices right after the Justice Department accused the nation-style chain of widespread discrimination against black diners in approximately 50 locations. A civil rights investigation learned that black diners at Cracker Barrels in seven Southern states were routinely given tables besides whites, seated after white customers who arrived later, and given inferior service, the department said in stating the settlement deal.
Managers allowed white servers to refuse to wait patiently on black patrons, and blacks were given less favorable treatment than whites whenever they complained about service, investigators found. Interviews with dozens of employees suggested that managers ”often directed, took part 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 known for its country-style cooking and folksy retailers, denied the accusations in a lawsuit that this Justice Department filed on Monday in Georgia. However in an agreement filed using the lawsuit, the business 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 the hiring of the outside auditor.
The agreement ”moves 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 in part to avoid ”protracted, distracting, costly, multiyear litigation.”
The laws under which the suit was brought did not enable the department to seek money. But recently some 100 blacks have pressed discrimination claims and therefore are seeking money through the company in four lawsuits in Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and N . C .. Stores there and in Alabama, Louisiana and Virginia were subjects in the department investigation.
”It’s shocking that something similar to this still happens forty years right after the passage of civil rights legislation,” said Heidi Doerhoff, a Washington lawyer active 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 through the department was similar to the experiences from the a large number of plaintiffs. One black employee with a Cracker Barrel in Mississippi claimed that white waitresses kaiypp pay her $3 per table to provide their black customers, Ms. Doerhoff said. Along with a black diner claimed 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, 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, stated that the agreement filed on Monday demonstrated the Justice Department’s resolve. ”Where we find evidence, while we did here, that individuals of the race are receiving anything less than full and equal use of public accommodations, we are going to act,” Mr. Acosta said. The N.A.A.C.P. as well as other civil rights advocates stated that the requirements imposed on Cracker Barrel sent a strong message but that the test of the company’s image would be whether the plaintiffs won money.
”It’s unclear if this will be a large black eye,” said John Relman, a legal representative whose discrimination lawsuits from the Denny’s restaurant chain during the early 1990’s helped lead to a $54 million settlement. ”What happens with those lawsuits will truly decide if Cracker Barrel gains the sort of notoriety that Denny’s did.”