Whataburger settles lawsuit claiming Florida manager preferred to hire white employees

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A Whataburger tent order number sits on a table in Dallas, Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

TALLAHASSEE, Florida (KXAN) — Whataburger will pay $180,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging a location of the fast food chain in Florida was instructed to only hire white people.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said it became aware of the restaurant’s policy after an employee complained to the federal agency.

The lawsuit claimed a general manager of a Whataburger location in Tallahassee repeatedly told her hiring manager to hire white applicants, and not hire black applicants.

When the manager complained about the policy, she was allegedly told upper management wanted the staff to “reflect the customer base where we do business.”

The manager said she was then physically and verbally abused, threatened and forced into a schedule change as well as additional work assignments, ultimately forcing her to resign.

The EEOC sued Whataburger for retaliatory harassment and constructive discharge. As part of the settlement, Whataburger must pay $180,000 and adopt new human resources policies, conduct live and virtual training and maintain an anonymous hotline for complaints.

In addition, the restaurant must post a notice of the lawsuit at its worksite and report any new complaints of retaliation.

“In this lawsuit, an employee risked her own livelihood to take a stand against race discrimination,” said Robert Weisberg, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Miami District.

“We are pleased that Whataburger is compensating her and making positive changes to its workplace.”

In a lengthy statement provided to KXAN, Whataburger detailed its company culture. It said the brand prides itself on an inclusive workforce culture where the best qualified applicants are always hired.

It also denied the allegations in the lawsuit, describing them as “false, disappointing and completely counter to the culture Whataburger lives and breathes every day.”

Whataburger said during the timeframe of the allegations involved in the lawsuit, 93% of new hires at that restaurant were African American.

It also denied the claims of retaliation, saying employees have opportunities to discuss issues they may have with supervisors through upper management and their human resources team.

Regarding the settlement, Whataburger said:

“Whataburger agreed to the terms of the consent decree in this case – in large part – because Whataburger already has in place most of what the consent decree requires.

“Whataburger has for years maintained an anonymous hotline for employees to report concerns about their work environment, including potential discrimination, harassment or retaliation.

“Whataburger has a long history of robust policies and procedures that prohibit discrimination, harassment and retaliation. What’s more, Whataburger routinely provides training to all employees on those policies and procedures.

“Despite having all of these proactive HR measures already in place, Whataburger decided to settle this protracted and exhausting legal matter purely as a business decision.”

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