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Restaurant to pay $2M in lawsuit

Mar 13, 2006 | The local Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is part of a sexual and racial harassment lawsuit ruling costing the corporation $2 million, according to an attorney with the Chicago office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

On Friday, Federal District Judge Charles R. Norgle Sr. entered a consent decree that ends the workplace discrimination lawsuit brought by EEOC lawyers two years ago against the nationwide restaurant chain. The case was adjudicated in a courtroom of the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois.

Under the decree, 51 current or former employees of Cracker Barrel restaurants in Mattoon, Bloomington and Matteson will share the $2 million settlement fund. In addition, Cracker Barrel will be required to train all employees at those stores on harassment issues and post a notice regarding the outcome of the lawsuit, as well as report any complaints it receives about alleged sex or race discrimination to EEOC officials.

The lawsuit, first filed nearly two years ago, claimed 10 female employees were subjected to “pornographic photographs, cartoons, obscene jokes and sexual propositions” as well as groping and sexual assaults. In total, 51 employees were involved in the charges investigated by the EEOC.

“We’re very happy. This is a great result,” said June Calhoun, EEOC supervisory trial attorney. “It is also important to note that Cracker Barrel will be required to make periodic reports to EEOC when any complaints of harassment or discrimination come from their employees at those restaurants.”

In addition, the decree prohibits Cracker Barrel from retaliating against employees for complaining about illegal harassment or accepting benefits under the decree.

Calhoun said the strength of the case was the fact that several employees had the courage to come forward and complain. Then additional employees became involved when the investigation continued.

“We had 51 workers coming forward and telling the same stories,” she said.

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