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Its Hard to be black In God's Country

Dead Presidents
2003-08-01 05:27:00

Lawsuit accuses restaurant of sub-par service to blacks

By David Hammer July 31, 2003

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. | A federal discrimination lawsuit Wednesday alleged that Cracker Barrel Old Country Store engaged in a pattern of sub-par service to blacks.

A Cracker Barrel spokeswoman said the lawsuit was unfounded and part of a wider attempt to discredit the Lebanon, Tenn.-based company.

Several of the 23 plaintiffs who visited Cracker Barrels in Bryant and North Little Rock said they waited in the chain?s signature porch rocking chairs while whites who came later were seated first. They said they were then seated in a back smoking section, served slower than whites and were openly rebuked when they complained.

?When I talked to the manager, he said if I wasn?t satisfied, there was a Burger King down the street," said the Rev. Henry Harris of North Little Rock.

Harris said the treatment he received reminded him of discrimination he and his family experienced in the Jim Crow South more than 40 years ago.

?I lived through the time of whites-only water fountains, and I don?t want to relive it. It took me back to that mentally," he said.

Plaintiffs? attorney Philip Kaplan said a similar lawsuit filed last year in Georgia will show that these were not isolated incidents but part of an ?insidious" pattern. The suit seeks monetary damages and revised policies.

Cracker Barrel spokeswoman Julie Davis denied any systematic discrimination and said the magistrate in the Georgia case had endorsed the company?s training methods after a thorough investigation. That magistrate ruled in January that would-be joint plaintiffs had failed to show a sufficient pattern of treatment to justify a class-action suit.

The Washington Lawyers? Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, a part of the plaintiffs? team in Arkansas, achieved a settlement in a case that lodged similar complaints against Denny?s Restaurants.

Susan Huhta with the Washington group said she hoped Wednesday?s lawsuit would force Cracker Barrel to similarly reform its policies.

Davis said Cracker Barrel?s very mission statement ? ?pleasing people" ? shows its dedication to good service and equal treatment. She also said that the corporate vice president in charge of training is black, along with a member of the company?s board of directors, the senior vice president for human resources and the vice president of purchasing and distribution.

Davis said the Washington Lawyers? Committee and a Birmingham law firm have been ?after Cracker Barrel for years" and threatened a new lawsuit if the company didn?t agree to a settlement with Georgia plaintiffs.

Rod Boggs, director of the Washington lawyers group, said the Little Rock case ?is intended to address serious allegations of many African-Americans whose claims are not presently before the court in Georgia."

Davis acknowledged that some individual plaintiffs have continued in suits against Cracker Barrel in Georgia but said she expected the court to dismiss them as having no merit.

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