Cracker Over A Barrel

Cracker Barrel restaurants specialize in country cooking and old fashioned southern hospitality. But as CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts reports, allegations of old school southern racism and discrimination have led the NAACP to file a class action suit on behalf of a dozen current and former company employees.

NAACP President Kweisi Mfume says, "Cracker Barrel in some cases not only tolerated but, we believe, supported racist and bigoted comments and racist and bigoted jokes and outright racist behavior by some of its staff."

Marilyn Hall agrees. She trained new employees at Cracker Barrel and says there was an unwritten corporate policy to discriminate against blacks.

"When African Americans were hired they were routinely given low paying jobs as dishwashers. Store managers would explain to me that black employees should not be seen by our guests and should be kept 'in the back of the house,' which meant the kitchen," says the former employee.

Corporate executives at Cracker Barrel deny the allegations. "We're a good company; people like working for us. African Americans have had great opportunities working for us," says company Vice President Norm Hill.

The suit against Cracker Barrel is only the latest in a growing list of high profile, high stakes class action lawsuits claiming discrimination.

Shoney's restaurants settled out of court for $132 million. Texaco did the same in a similar case for $176 million.

Legal analysts say the surge in class action suits and big dollar settlements started when a change in federal law allowed workers to sue for what's called compensatory damage or emotional suffering.

"The 1991 Civil Rights Act empowered individuals with some rights they did not have before under Title 7. It also made it easier for people to bring these kinds of cases," says civil attorney Cyrus Mehri.

Now that it is easier to sue and there is more to gain, experts say we will continue to see more class action lawsuits like the one filed against Cracker Barrel.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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