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Carl's Jr. settles race claim

Dec 15, 2005 | Sacramento Bee

The parent company of Carl's Jr. burger chain has agreed to pay $255,000 to settle claims that a shift manager at an Elk Grove restaurant told co-workers that he had "white pride," used racial epithets and flashed white power signs while on the job, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Wednesday.

The harassment charges were initially filed by an 18-year-old African American woman, Michal Harris, who worked at the local restaurant in 2001. The EEOC then brought suit on behalf of other minority workers.

Under terms of the settlement, the restaurant's parent company, Carl Karcher Enterprises Inc., did not admit any wrongdoing but set aside the payment for Harris and others, and also will provide harassment prevention training for managers and employees in the Sacramento area.

The incidents in the case occurred in 2001. Upset by alleged epithets from the Carl's Jr. shift leader, Harris wrote a petition to complain to the local district manager and had eight other co-workers sign it, according to the EEOC.

A human resources manager then interviewed the shift leader about the alleged incidents, according to the EEOC. He denied any wrongdoing and, according to the EEOC, the workers who signed the petition were never interviewed.

"It was a very limited investigation," said Joan Ehrlich, director of the EEOC's California district.

Two weeks after submitting the written petition, Harris was fired, allegedly for eating food without paying for it, Ehrlich said. She also received a death threat on her answering machine and, without a job, was left homeless for two months, according to her attorney, Harold H. Franklin Jr. of Washington state. Harris, who according to her attorney has since married and changed her last name and moved out of the area, declined to be interviewed by The Bee.

The shift leader was never disciplined or fired, according to Franklin. He voluntarily left Carl's Jr. in 2002, according to the EEOC. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.

In a statement, the human resources vice president at parent company Carl Karcher Enterprises Inc. said: "Although CKE strongly disputes the EEOC's claims in this matter, it makes sense to settle this matter to avoid the costs and time which would be associated with defending this litigation. CKE remains committed to its policy of providing a workplace free of harassment and discrimination."

The settlement earmarked $105,000 for Harris and an additional $150,000 for any other minority employees who were allegedly harassed, according to the EEOC. Any remaining money will go to the William K. Morgan Scholarship Fund at McGeorge School of Law.

CKE also agreed to provide mandatory training in preventing racial harassment to all of its supervisors and managers in the Sacramento district, according to the EEOC.

Current manager Hang Nguyen, who did not work at the Elk Grove Carl's Jr. restaurant at the time of the alleged harassment, said she had no knowledge of the suit or the settlement.

Harris "was very traumatized initially, but she's young and she's bounded back," Franklin said.

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