Cracker Barrel Promises More Training in Discrimination Settlement

May 5, 2004 ( - A Tennessee-based restaurant chain has agreed to step up its employee sensitivity training as part of an out-of-court settlement with the government about customers' claims they were the victims of racial discrimination.

The settlement between Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., based in Lebanon, Tennessee, and the U.S. Justice Department also included a company promise to take a number of other steps to stem discrimination against African American customers, the Associated Press reported.

The agreement, filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, settles a government lawsuit contending Cracker Barrel violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act by “engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination against African-American customers” at dozens of restaurants.

The Justice Department found evidence of problems at more than 50 restaurants involved in its investigation in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Some 80% of the employees or former employees interviewed in the probe said they had witnessed or experienced discriminatory treatment at Cracker Barrel restaurants, with managers often directing or condoning the behavior.

Cracker Barrel 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.

Wherever it might exist, such discrimination is against company rules, the restaurant chain insisted. “We do not tolerate any form of discrimination,” said Donald 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.”

Cracker Barrel operates 497 restaurants in 41 states. It had had $1.9 billion in sales last year.