Barrel Settles Bias Suit
By CURT ANDERSON, Associated Press Writer
Cracker Barrel restaurants will expand sensitivity training for
employees as part of an agreement to settle a government investigation
of customers' racial discrimination claims, the company and Justice
Department announced last week
In the consent decree, Cracker Barrel did not admit any wrongdoing
and will pay no fines or penalties, spokeswoman Julie Davis said.
"This moves us forward in a direction we were already going,"
Davis said. "It allows both sides to avoid protracted and
Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., based in Lebanon, Tenn.,
has been the target of several lawsuits filed by black customers
who say they received poor service compared with white patrons.
Their claims include exceedingly long waits for tables and being
segregated in restaurants.
The discriminatory practices took place over five years in about
50 restaurants scattered across seven Southern states, federal
officials said. In all, the chain has 497 locations in 41 states.
In many cases, the government alleged, restaurant managers allowed
a practice known as "table-switching," in which white
servers who objected to waiting on blacks traded tables with other
The agreement has no direct effect on those lawsuits, Davis said.
But it does require the chain's employees to undergo expanded
racial diversity training and improves procedures to investigate
company also will hire an outside firm that will send undercover
customers into restaurants to check on Cracker Barrel employees.
"We do not tolerate any form of discrimination," said
Donald M. Turner, Cracker Barrel president and chief operating
officer. "It is, and always has been, a violation of our
policies and procedures and is neither condoned nor allowed."
The $440 billion restaurant industry continues to be a lightning
rod for discrimination cases. Last month, eight black customers
in the Atlanta area filed a federal lawsuit against Waffle House,
claiming racial discrimination. And, despite major progress, Denny's
has yet to fully recover from a 1993 racial bias class-action
Now, it's Cracker Barrel's turn.
At 36 restaurants, investigators found alleged evidence that black
customers were seated in segregated areas, said a Justice official
who asked not to be identified. In 18 of those locations, the
official said, managers allegedly directed the segregated seating
arrangements. In one location, employees referred to the black
seating area as "the ghetto."
"To discriminate on the basis of race tramples our nation's
promise of equality," Assistant Attorney General R. Alexander
Cracker Barrel operates 497 restaurants in 41 states. It had had
$1.9 billion in sales last year.