Former manager files bias complaint against diner Checkers is target of racism charge

April 18, 1993|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,Staff Writer

Four months after a crane lowered a modular Checkers restaurant onto land between Ritchie and Crain highways, a former manager has leveled racial discrimination charges against the franchise running the '50s-style drive-in.

In a complaint filed last week with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Ernest D. Rucker Jr., 39, alleged a pattern of discrimination against minorities and women that included firing on the basis of race, sexual harassment of female employees and using or tolerating racial slurs and vulgar language.

Keith Martin, president of Mar-Chek Inc., the franchise that runs the Glen Burnie diner, denied all charges. He described Mr. Rucker, who was fired March 17, as a disgruntled employee who had run-ins with everyone from corporate Checkers officials to workers. He said the corporation had gone out of its way to help him, such as by advancing pay.

In his April 12 complaint, Mr. Rucker, who is black, says part of his job entailed training other managers. But he said his supervisors forbade him to train two black workers hired specifically as potential managers, instead hiring two white employees from the outside and promoting them to manager.

Mr. Martin, whose company has franchised only the Glen Burnie restaurant, countered that it hires managers based solely on experience.

The complaint alleges Mr. Rucker was advised, "Don't hire those too fat or don't hire a person with a tattoo or don't hire the black dummy."

"I challenged the hiring plan; they hired blacks and females to fill spots for quotas and then moved them out," his sworn affidavit said.

"I took offense that they'd ask me to entertain that type of discrimination," Mr. Rucker said in an interview. "I was supposed to come in and keep my mouth shut and listen to the jokes, listen to the disgraceful things they were saying about women.

"If it was one isolated incident, I would have never gone this route," he said. "But when you see a direct pattern building and building, this is a pattern, the good-old-boy network at work."

Mr. Martin strongly denied the company took calculated steps to weed out minorities, who make up one-third of the work force of about60. Of 37 employees who have left the Glen Burnie restaurant since January, 24 are white, 11 are black and two are Hispanic, he said.

He said the company is prepared to immediately address the charges and cooperate with the EEOC.

"We have nothing to hide," Mr. Martin said. "He has twisted and distorted all these facts. We didn't hire him because he's black, and we didn't fire him because he's black. Mar-Chek is not racist and never has been racist. That's what's so insulting."

Mr. Rucker said EEOC officials notified him last week that they have begun investigating the charges. The Maryland Commission on Human Relations, which is automatically notified EEOC complaints, receives about 1,200 discrimination charges a year, most of those in employment.

"These are not easy cases to prove," said Jennifer Burdick, executive director of the state commission. Agencies dismiss about 60 percent of the cases when they can't prove violations.

Mr. Rucker, Mar-Chek's only black manager, said he was fired March 17 after objecting when his supervisors forced employees to come to work during a blizzard. Ron Wyland, Checkers' director of operations, said Mr. Rucker was fired for his performance and conduct.

Employees and former employees painted a picture of the dTC restaurant as a place where management shrugged off complaints of discrimination against minorities and women.

A female employee, who still works there and asked not to be identified, said a manager repeatedly put his hand on her back or smacked her on the back, made vulgar comments, called her at home and demanded to know her where abouts during her time off. When she complained, his supervisor laughed it off and told her, "He likes you."

Former employee Shawn White, 21, who is black, said he was hired in December with the promise he'd be trained for management. But no one trained him, he said, while others rose above him. He left and works as a Kentucky Fried Chicken manager.

Brian Henderson, 28, said managers fired him for slapping a white female employee, who had referred to him by a racial epithet and raised her hand as if to hit him. The same woman had kicked Mr. Henderson earlier, in view of other workers, but she kept her job, he said.

The publicly held chain, Checkers Inc. of Clearwater, Fla., has more than 200 franchises in 14 primarily southeast states. Each diner features '50s architecture and decor.

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