A former manager for an out-of-state Whataburger restaurant believes she was forced to quit because she wouldn’t follow through with directions from higher-ups to only hire white workers.
Now the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has jumped into the case, filing a lawsuit in Tallahassee against the Texas fast food chain. The EEOC says the company violated federal law by requiring an employee to follow racially discriminatory hiring practices.
Vanessa Burrous, a white woman and former manager at a Florida Whataburger, said she was told in 2015 to hire white employees because the company wanted “faces behind the counter to match the customer base.”
After being told to sift through job applications and only interview those with “names that sounded white,” she went on to hire eight new workers — one white and seven black, according to an EEOC statement.
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“She was subjected to an ongoing pattern of retaliatory conduct including verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, a drastic change in schedule, and unwarranted discipline,” according to the statement. “The retaliatory conduct ultimately forced the restaurant manager to resign from her position.”
Whataburger officials have denied the charges.
“Based on our thorough internal investigation, we deny the allegations,” Whataburger said in a statement to the Tallahassee Democrat. “We did not retaliate against this employee nor did we ask her to use the alleged discriminatory hiring practices.
“We value diversity on our teams and proudly employ family members of all races. Approximately 75 percent of our workforce identifies as non-white.”
Whataburger, based in San Antonio, is a Texas institution with its first restaurant in Corpus Christi dating to 1950.
The EEOC maintains the company violated part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and filed the lawsuit after unsuccessfully trying to reach a settlement with Whataburger.
“Employees who oppose unlawful practices should feel secure in exercising that right,” Michael Farrell, district director for the EEOC’s Miami District Office, said in a statement this week.