Watch CBS News

Wonder Bread Sued For Racism

Fifteen black workers in a Wonder Bread plant are suing the company because they say managers didn't promote them, told racist jokes and refused to let them congregate out of fear they might form a gang.

The workers want $260 million in damages, their attorney said Monday.

The lawsuit against Wonder Bread, its parent company, Kansas City, Mo.-based Interstate Brands Corp., and five local managers was filed Thursday in San Francisco Superior Court.

The San Francisco plant employs 600 people, including 25 black workers who hold no supervisory positions. Because of the absence of minorities, some employees call management the "White House."

Interstate Brands Senior Vice President Mark Dirkes denied that there was a ban on congregating and said any supervisory-level job was posted and open to all applicants. He said he couldn't comment on details of the lawsuit.

"The company is an equal opportunity employer. We strive to assure that racial and ethnic discrimination is not part of our personnel decisions," Dirkes said.

IBC, a $3 billion-per-year company with 63 regional bakeries, is the nation's largest baker. It makes Wonder Bread, Home Pride bread and Hostess cupcakes.

The employees' attorney, Angela Alioto, said the ban against groups of black employees talking together was "verbal and we believe that it is in writing, but we don't know."

Plaintiff Theodis Carroll, a bakery worker, said managers cited a fear of gangs when they ordered black workers not to congregate.

"They don't like for the blacks to get together and talk, but the white guys are sitting down there on the floor (of the bakery) and that's OK," Carroll said.

None of the plaintiffs, who have been with the company between three and 28 years, has been promoted from an entry-level job, said Ms. Alioto, a former city supervisor.

Among the other complaints in the lawsuit:

A driver said he had to ask his shop steward to stop making racist jokes around him and was fired after a confrontation with a store manager who called a group of black women "welfare people."

A salesman said a supervisor wouldn't give him a day off after being robbed at gunpoint on the job. The salesman said he was told he should be OK because blacks see so much violence in their personal lives.

Written by Noel K. Wilson

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.