Protesters picket fast-food chicken restaurant over alleged discrimination

June 05, 1994|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Sun Staff Writer

About 20 people picketed a KFC chicken restaurant in Millersville yesterday, protesting an April 21 incident in which an employee allegedly referred to three black customers using a racial slur.

The protesters included blacks and whites. They shouted, "Say no to KFC! Say no to racism," and carried signs with slogans such as, "1994 -- Racism is out the door!" Their shirts read, "Treat every American right."

In the restaurant, now called "KFC" but more commonly referred to as Kentucky Fried Chicken, at the Cloverleaf Business Park on Veterans' Highway, business appeared to go on as usual.

According to the customers involved, Sheila Kemper, Hazel Pinkcett and Yolanda Pinkcett, all of Glen Burnie, an argument began at lunch on April 21 with a restaurant employee who refused them service. The employee allegedly used a racial slur and characterized the women as welfare recipients.

Managers did not discipline the employee, but served the women their meal, they said.

Chris Scanlan, a spokesman for Kazi Foods of Annapolis, which took over the Millersville restaurant on April 1, was at the establishment yesterday during the protest.

He said the parent company was not aware of the incident until May 25, when KFC corporate headquarters in Louisville, Ky., contacted Kazi Foods with details of the complaint.

Mr. Scanlan said the employee who is alleged to have insulted the women was fired May 31. One of the managers present resigned April 31. Another was fired May 19 for unrelated reasons, he said, and a third has been suspended pending an investigation.

"We deeply regret this incident and apologize directly to the three customers involved, as well as the African-American community, for the irresponsible treatment they received," he said yesterday.

"The public apology is greatly appreciated," said Ms. Kemper.

However, she said she wants the company to offer sensitivity training for employees and to adopt a policy of promoting minority managers. She said a lawsuit seeking financial damages is possible.

Weekly protests at local KFC restaurants owned by Kazi Foods will continue until the matter is settled, she said.

Mr. Scanlan said his company is studying the customers' requests.

The incident was isolated, he said. Kazi Foods is owned by a man from India, he said, and of the Millersville restaurant's 13 managers, six are white, three are black, three are Asian and one is Latino.

Jean Creek, president of the Anne Arundel County NAACP, said Mr. Scanlan's apology was a first step. However, she said, the fact that an employee thought she could behave in such a way in front of her bosses may indicate the company has a deeper problem.

"We need to see where the root of this thing exists, and make sure that it doesn't happen again," she said.

KFC officials in Kentucky could not be reached yesterday for comment.

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