EEOC Sues Cracker Barrel Restaurants

August 12, 2004 ( - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has sued a restaurant chain, alleging sexual harassment and racial discrimination against 10 workers.

An EEOC news release said that the workers – located at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store locations in Matteson, Mattoon, and Bloomington, Illinois – complained that they were harassed through circulation of pornographic photographs and cartoons. They were also harassed through obscene jokes, sexual propositions, groping, and sexual assaults, the workers complained.

The EEOC suit also alleged that African American employees were harassed and subjected to different terms and conditions of employment because of their race. The EEOC announcement said the agency’s investigation found that managers not only refused to investigate the harassment, they became personally involved in it by grabbing female employees, propositioning them, and laughing at their complaints. Calls to Cracker Barrel’s “1-800 hotline,” established to receive complaints, went unanswered, according to the agency.

The investigation also revealed that an obscene cartoon depicting a African American employee was circulated in the Bloomington Cracker Barrel and that there were continuous race-based comments referring to the employee as “black and lazy” and one whose “people like to eat turnip greens,” the EEOC charged.

“Cracker Barrel markets itself as a wholesome family restaurant a general store reminiscent of the old time values of small town and rural America,” said John Hendrickson, EEOC Regional Attorney in Chicago, in the news release. “But this case involving three different and widely dispersed restaurants suggests that life behind the scenes at these Cracker Barrels was something different, something seamy, untoward and oppressive and illegal.”

According to Cracker Barrel’s web site, the company has over 500 stores in 41 states and plans to open new ones at a rate of 20 stores per year. It employs more than 45,000 workers.