Sexual Harassment Lawsuit settled by Cracker Barrel

The Cracker Barrel chain of restaurants and “old country stores” has settled a sexual harassment lawsuit with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Nashville Tennessean reported April 9. The claim, which was brought by the EEOC, alleged that seven female employees at a Cedar Bluff, Tenn. store were repeatedly subjected to unwanted jokes and sexual remarks by their colleagues as well as the store’s managers and general manager. The women complained to supervisors and to a toll-free complaint number, the article said, but the company took no action. According to an EEOC press release, management also retaliated against two of the women who complained by moving them to a part of the restaurant where tips were lower.

The settlement includes several court orders as well as $255,000 in compensation. The settlement agreement also requires the restaurant chain to:

  • stop sexual harassment and retaliation, and change its policies for dealing with that behavior;
  • conduct anti-sexual harassment training for all employees at the restaurant for three years;
  • maintain and report sexual harassment complaints for at least three years;
  • post notices about the settlement, its anti-sexual harassment policies, the number of its toll-free complaint hotline and a statement that anonymous complaints will be investigated.

The Tennessean reported that training had already begun.

Unfortunately, this is another in a long line of employment discrimination lawsuits against the Cracker Barrel. The company gained national notoriety in the 1990s and early 2000s after allegations surfaced that employees — including managers — discriminated against African American and mixed-race customers and employees. In 1991, it became a boycott target for the gay and lesbian community after it fired employees for being gay and instituted a policy requiring “normal heterosexual values.” (This policy was rescinded in 2002.) And in 2006, it settled a sexual harassment and racial discrimination suit for $2 million. That settlement also included a consent decree forbidding retaliation and requiring employee training.

Clearly, not all Cracker Barrel employees have learned something from these experiences. Even if they do not value a workplace free of discrimination and harassment, it is surprising that Cracker Barrel management isn’t thinking about its bottom line. Racial discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation are also illegal — and after nearly two decades of lawsuits and millions of dollars in settlements, the company must realize that it’s just not worth the cost.

Money can’t undo the emotional and social harms of discrimination, but for many of the victims we represent at Joseph & Kirschenbaum, it’s a way to defray the financial effects of discrimination and retaliation — and, perhaps, to make employers think twice the next time.