EEOC, Cracker Barrel settle discrimination suit

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) - The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Monday it has reached a settlement with Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurants on behalf of five female workers who say they were subjected to a sexually hostile work environment.

Cracker Barrel is a subsidiary of CBRL Group Inc., based in Lebanon, Tenn. It operates about 550 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurants and gift shops in 41 states.

The EEOC said the women, all former employees of the Las Cruces Cracker Barrel restaurant, were sexually harassed by a management official and that at least two of the women were retaliated against for complaining about the conduct.

The EEOC filed a lawsuit last September on behalf of the women - Cynthia Barela, Summer Irvin, Jennifer Jackson, Lorraine Provencio and Jessica Tuton.

As part of the settlement, the EEOC said Cracker Barrel will pay $270,000, which will be split among the five women, and provide training to its Las Cruces employees.

The company also will issue a written apology to the women. Julie Davis, a spokeswoman for Cracker Barrel, said the management official accused of harassing the women no longer works for the company and that the incident was isolated.

"Cracker Barrel and the EEOC share the same goals, which is a workplace that is free of harassment," Davis said.

She added that the company has clear policies against harassment. Mary Jo O'Neill, a regional attorney for the EEOC, said the settlement includes an injunction that prohibits the restaurant's managers from discriminating against any employee because of sex or subjecting employees to a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment.

"No one should have to endure sexual harassment and retaliation in order to earn a paycheck," O'Neill said. "Employers should have policies and procedures in place to promote a discrimination-free workplace and take prompt action if and when complaints arise."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)