Whataburger suits draws attention of NAN, local humanitarian
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
A national civic rights organization and a local humanitarian advocate suggested a wait-and-see approach before calling for a boycott of Whataburger for alleged discriminatory hiring practices.
Reaction by the Tallahassee chapter of the National Action Network and pastor Lee Johnson came a week after a former manager at Whataburger on Apalachee Parkway alleged in a suit that she was ordered not to hire non-Whites. Vanessa Burrous alleges in the suit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that she was humiliated for not following orders that she only hire applicants who didn’t sound Black.
The EEOC alleges in the Suit filed almost two weeks ago in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division that Whataburger violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
“We are going to stand behind the complainant because we are trying to deal with any indiscretion with discrimination on employment, wages; the whole nine,” said Don Tolliver, vice president of the NAN local chapter.
However, he said before any action could be taken pertaining to a possible boycott of Whataburger, the NAN will conduct an investigation.
“If your policy is to not hire more Blacks and you’re telling the managers to do this, that is embedded somewhere,” Tolliver said. “That might not just be a store issue. It could be with all the stores and we don’t know it.
“You need to investigate and if it’s disproportionate you’d clearly see it’s not because of the implications or the background; you’re discriminating against Blacks as a whole.”
The EEOC said in its suit, Burrous was told by regional managers to review the names on applications, identify those names that sounded White, and to interview only those applicants.
After the restaurant manager opposed and refused to participate in the racially discriminatory hiring directive, she was subjected to an ongoing pattern of retaliatory conduct including verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, a drastic change in schedule, and unwarranted discipline. The retaliatory conduct ultimately forced the restaurant manager to resign from her position, according to the suit, An attempt to reach a settlement through its conciliation process was unsuccessful, according to the EEOC suit.
The Tallahassee suit comes after Whataburger was sued by an employee in a store in Texas, where the hamburger giant is based.
In a statement released to the media, Whataburger said it conducted its own internal investigation. It denied Burrous’ allegations.
“We did not retaliate against this employee nor did we ask her to use the alleged discriminatory hiring practices,” the company said. “We value diversity on our teams and proudly employ family members of all races. Approximately 75 percent of our workforce identifies as non-White.”
Johnson, pastor of Loved By Jesus Family Church, said he wasn’t surprised by the allegations because of how wide the nation’s divide has become between the races.
“In this day and time that we have this (president Donald) Trump thing going on and this Neo-Nazi thing going on, it seems like it’s in vogue now to be prejudice.
“What gets me is that it came from corporate Whataburger. This lets me know that this systemic racism is there. They tried to put pressure on this lady and my hat’s off to her.”