Cracker Barrel Race Discrimination Class Actions

Case Type: Race Discrimination

Company: Cracker Barrel

Cracker Barrel Race Discrimination Case: A Major Victory for Civil Rights, Spearheaded by our Co-Founder

Cracker Barrel – a staple in many parts of rural America – has been at the center of multiple controversies over the years for its problematic stances on diversity and inclusion.

Based in Lebanon, Tennessee, the company brands itself as a homey Southern eatery and general store. But the restaurant chain has a history of engaging in discriminatory practices. In the 1990, Cracker Barrel refused to hire anyone who didn’t practice “normal heterosexual values.”

Then, in the early 2000s, the company faced a landmark federal class action lawsuit for its racially discriminatory practices.

It was Sanford Heisler Sharp Co-Founder and Chairman David Sanford who served as lead counsel in Rhodes v. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. The case drew national media attention and resulted in an $8.7 million settlement. The outcome empowered employees and sent a strong signal to employers that racial discrimination will not be tolerated.

An Alarming Pattern Of Racial Discrimination

The case against Cracker Barrel involved more than 40 plaintiffs – including employees and customers – across 16 states. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) also joined the suit.

The lawsuit sought justice for those harmed by Cracker Barrel’s extensive violations of two key federal laws:

  • Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race discrimination in public accommodations
  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits race discrimination in employment

The suit exposed the company’s systemic racial discrimination against employees, evidenced in practices such as:

  • Paying Black workers less than white employees
  • Segregating Black workers from other staff
  • Giving Black workers less favorable “back of the house” duties and job assignments
  • Denying Black workers promotional opportunities
  • Ignoring and perpetuating racist slurs and comments
  • Failing to enforce policies prohibiting racial discrimination

The suit also brought to light Cracker Barrel’s racist treatment of customers in many locations. The company engaged in such egregious acts of racism as:

  • Turning Black customers away
  • Forcing Black customers to sit in segregated sections of the restaurant
  • Allowing white staff members to refuse to serve Black customers
  • Providing subpar service to Black customers
  • Making Black customers wait longer than white customers
  • Failing to take seriously the complaints raised by Black customers

At the time, Cracker Barrel had more than 450 restaurants across 41 states. Many of the incidents supporting a pattern of racial discrimination took place in the South.

The Department of Justice Investigation

The lawsuit led to a federal investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ)– the only instance of intervention in a racial discrimination case under the George W. Bush administration. The DOJ found evidence that Cracker Barrel did, indeed, engage in racial discrimination across 50 restaurants in seven Southern states. The investigation revealed that managers often directed and participated in racist treatment of customers.

The investigation led to a consent order filed in federal court that required Cracker Barrel to:

  • Adopt detailed nondiscrimination policies and publicize those policies
  • Implement a better system for addressing discrimination complaints
  • Conduct trainings on compliance with federal nondiscrimination law
  • Hire an independent auditor to verify compliance

Were it not for the class action lawsuit, the pattern of racial discrimination might never have come to light.

The $8.7 Settlement

The consent order in the DOJ’s case did not provide compensation to employees or customers impacted by Cracker Barrel’s abhorrent practices. The class action lawsuit led by David Sanford did.

A few months after the consent order was filed, the class action suit reached a confidential settlement of $8.7 million. The settlement provided compensation for those wronged by Cracker Barrel’s discriminatory treatment.

Our Longstanding Legacy As A Champion For Civil Rights

The Cracker Barrel case is just one among many in our proud legacy of advancing civil rights. Our lawyers stand firm in the belief that bad actors must be held accountable – especially national companies with far-reaching influence.

Businesses and employers are in a position of power. Employees deserve to be on equal footing when they bravely come forward to take action against discriminatory practices. So, too, do customers and members of the public who have endured such mistreatment.

As a public interest law firm, we are committed to giving a voice to those harmed by racism and other types of illegal discrimination. Our attorneys work diligently to make a meaningful difference. They pursue individual and class action claims to not only hold individual employers accountable but also move the needle toward greater inclusion and ethical business practices across all industries.

Learn More About Our Civil Rights Practice

Our lawyers represent employees and others impacted by discriminatory practices among employers and businesses nationwide. Contact us to learn more about our practice.

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Attorneys Involved in the Case