Cracker Barrel restaurants agreed upon Monday to modernize their training and management practices following the Justice Department accused the nation-style chain of widespread discrimination against black diners in about 50 locations. A civil rights investigation discovered that black diners at Cracker Barrels in seven Southern states were routinely given tables besides whites, seated after white clients who arrived later, and given poor service, the department said in announcing the negotiation.
Managers allowed white servers to refuse to hold back on black patrons, and blacks received less favorable treatment than whites whenever they complained about service, investigators found. Interviews with a large number 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 located in Tennessee which includes 497 locations nationwide and is recognized for its country-style cooking and folksy retailers, denied the accusations in a lawsuit that the Justice Department filed on Monday in Georgia. But in a binding agreement filed using the lawsuit, the organization decided to wide-ranging steps to combat discrimination against black diners. Among them are new training programs, random testing by undercover diners, the posting of nondiscrimination statements on menus, as well as the hiring of an outside auditor.
The agreement ”moves Cracker Barrel menu forward in a direction we were already moving,” said Julie Davis, a business spokeswoman. She claimed that while Cracker Barrel failed to believe the accusations, it agreed to the six-point plan partly in order to avoid ”protracted, distracting, costly, multiyear litigation.”
The laws under that the suit was brought failed to permit the department to find money. But lately some 100 blacks have pressed discrimination claims and are seeking money from your company in four lawsuits in Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi and N . C .. Stores there and in Alabama, Louisiana and Virginia were subjects from the department investigation.
”It’s shocking that something similar to 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 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 of the lots of plaintiffs. One black employee at a Cracker Barrel in Mississippi claimed that white waitresses kaiypp pay her $3 per table to offer their black customers, Ms. Doerhoff said. And a black diner said that when he complained to your 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 all 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, stated that the agreement filed on Monday demonstrated the Justice Department’s resolve. ”Where we discover evidence, since we did here, that individuals of any race are receiving anything lower than full and equal usage of public accommodations, we are going to act,” Mr. Acosta said. The N.A.A.C.P. as well as other civil rights advocates said that the prerequisites imposed on Cracker Barrel sent a solid message but that this test in the company’s image would be if the plaintiffs won money.
”It’s unclear if this is a big black eye,” said John Relman, an attorney whose discrimination lawsuits from the Denny’s restaurant chain in early 1990’s helped lead to a $54 million settlement. ”What happens with those lawsuits will definitely determine whether Cracker Barrel gains the kind of notoriety that Denny’s did.”