A white worker at a North Carolina barbecue joint threw hot sauce on an African-American co-worker and repeatedly called her the “N-word,” the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said in a news release and lawsuit.
The EEOC filed the lawsuit in federal court in Statesville this week against Joe’s Old Fashioned Bar-B-Que Inc., the corporate entity for Lancaster’s BBQ & Wings, according to the EEOC’s news release.
The longtime NASCAR-themed Mooresville barbecue restaurant “violated federal law when it subjected a black employee to a racially hostile work environment,” the EEOC said in Wednesday’s news release.
According to the EEOC’s news release, a white co-worker “repeatedly made offensive racist statements” to Shana Knox, “including use of the N-word and racial jokes about blacks. Although Knox complained to management, the harassment continued.”
In response to a request for comment from The Charlotte Observer, Lancaster’s attorney, Shel Robinson of Charlotte, said in a statement Thursday that “Lancaster’s BBQ has always welcomed customers and recruited employees of all races, sexes and backgrounds. Lancaster’s has not seen the allegation’s of the EEOC’s lawsuit, but it welcomes the true facts coming forward.
“Lancaster’s was founded by two friends, one African-American and one Caucasian, and it continues to hope that in the spirit of their friendship it can continue to serve and respect all customers and employees in an inclusive, diverse and welcoming environment,” Robinson said in the statement emailed to the Observer.
Knox worked in the carryout area at Lancaster’s BBQ’s Mooresville restaurant from March 2016 through January 2017, according to the EEOC. She ”was forced to resign” after the co-worker threw the hot BBQ sauce on her and again called her the N-word, the EEOC’s news release said.
“In 14 years of practice in Charlotte and what must be hundreds of charges filed, I’ve never had the EEOC legal department file suit on behalf of one of my clients,” Knox’s lawyer, Josh Van Kampen, said in an emailed statement to the Observer. “I think that speaks volumes to what was uncovered in the investigation. The events in this case harken back to the intimidation and hostility blacks encountered at Woolworth lunch counters.
Van Kampen told the Observer that he intends to file a “motion to intervene” in the federal lawsuit by the end of the month, “adding claims of battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress against the assailant and the restaurant and a claim for negligent retention and supervision against the restaurant.” Van Kampen said. He also will add “federal 1981 claims for race discrimination.”
EEOC sued Lancaster’s “after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process,” according to the commission’s news release. The commission’s lawsuit seeks back pay and monetary damages for Knox.
“Employers must take appropriate action to stop employees’ use of racial slurs in the workplace,” Lynette Barnes, regional attorney for EEOC’s Charlotte District Office, said in the news release. “The EEOC takes a company’s disregard for the federally protected rights of its employees very seriously and will prosecute cases where this kind of abuse occurs.”
By Joe Marusak