Panera Bread Franchisee Settles Race Bias Claims

by Tara Arick on December 5, 2012 · 0 comments

in Labor and Employment Law

- From LexisNexis® Mealey’s™ Daily Legal News.

A Pennsylvania federal judge on Nov. 30 granted preliminary approval of a settlement reached between a restaurant franchisee and a class of black employees who allege that their employer denied them promotions solely because of their race (Guy M. Vines, et al. v. Covelli Enterprises T/D/B/A, Panera Bread, No. 12-0028, W.D. Pa.; 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 170870).

Guy Vines was hired to work on the sandwich line at a Panera Bread restaurant, owned and operated by Covelli Enterprises, in November 2009. He claimed that for the duration of his employment, Vines alleged that Covelli maintained an unwritten practice of prohibiting employees who were “fat, black, and/or ugly” from working within the view of customers.

Vines claimed that his manager described him as a dedicated and diligent employee but informed Vines that he was ineligible for promotion to management because he is black. Not wanting to remain in that environment, Vines claimed that he was constructively discharged in August 2011.

In his class complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Vines alleged that this discriminatory practice was implemented across Covelli’s restaurants in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio between 2008 and 2012. Covelli denied the allegations.

Settlement Reached

After Vines’ class complaint was filed, the parties engaged in mediation. A settlement was reached. The parties agreed to certify a class of people consisting of “[a]ll current or former African-American persons who (i) worked as non-management employees of Defendant during the period from January 11, 2008 to January 11, 2012; (ii) worked for Covelli at least 12 months during the period from January 11, 2008 to January 11, 2012; and (iii) who sought a promotion or desired to be promoted to a management position, but were denied promotion.”

While Covelli continued to deny the claims and allegations of racial discrimination, it agreed to pay $ 0.70 per hour for each hour a class member worked in excess of the member’s one-year anniversary date of employment through the date of the final court-approved settlement. Covelli also agreed to pay class counsel’s attorney fees and litigation costs as well as a $ 10,000 enhancement payment to Vines.

Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster granted preliminary approval. “Here, all class members have the same grievance against defendant, namely that its unwritten policy prevented them from ever attaining a management position. Therefore, no class member can be said to have an interest in individually controlling the prosecution or defense of a separate action because of some circumstances unique to the others. To date, this is the only litigation that Covelli is defending related to its allegedly discriminatory employment practices in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio, which are home to most of its restaurants and employee base. This forum is, therefore, desirable for both parties and is unlikely to encounter difficulties in managing the litigation. The court finds that a class action is the superior method of adjudication for this lawsuit,” the judge held.

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