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Sex Suit For Cracker Barrel Chain

Women who worked at three Cracker Barrel restaurants in Illinois have filed a federal lawsuit that claims sexual harassment and racial discrimination by employees and managers.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission joined 10 women as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Chicago against Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc.

The lawsuit alleges that the women were groped by male employees, subjected to obscene and racist jokes and shown pornographic pictures at restaurants in Matteson, Mattoon and Bloomington. The women said bosses laughed at them when they complained.

Some of the claims were investigated four years ago, Cracker Barrel spokeswoman Julie Davis said. The Lebanon, Tenn.-based company found the claims to be without merit.

Cracker Barrel "does not tolerate harassment, discrimination or retaliation against employees, suppliers or guests," Davis said.

The EEOC started investigating the claims after complaints were filed with the agency in 2000 and 2001. It filed the lawsuit after finding a "widespread and serious problem" with management not responding to complaints, EEOC attorney John Hendrickson said.

"This is a significant number of people ... that indicated there is a problem," Hendrickson said. "It's something that can be controlled and stopped by management. And when it's not stopped, it grows like a cancer."

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of compensation for the women, Hendrickson said.

In May, Cracker Barrel and the Justice Department announced a settlement after a government investigation found evidence of racial discrimination against customers in more than 50 restaurants. The company agreed to start sensitivity training.