The Whataburger hamburger chain is being accused of trying to hire only white job applicants, according to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee.
The EEOC sued after investigating accusations by Vanessa Burrous, a 2013 management trainee in the chain’s Tallahassee store, that store management instructed her to interview only white job applicants and that direction came from the Texas-based chain’s leaders.
Whataburger said it has a diverse workforce and denied the accusation in the lawsuit. The chain issued this statement to the Miami Herald: “Based on our thorough internal investigation, we deny the allegations. 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% of our workforce identifies as non-white.”
The chain’s employs over 40,000 people and has over 800 stores across 10 states. The chain has 38 Florida stores, the southernmost of which are just south of Jacksonville. All are corporate-owned."
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Decades of research has indicated that, when just seeing an application or resumé without a photo, employers are less likely to call back job seekers with names that sound African-American than similarly credentialed applicants with names that sound non-Latin white. The suit accuses Whataburger of being consciously discriminatory.
The suit claims that store General Manager Johanna Risk “began pressuring Ms. Burrous to hire white employees including, but not limited to, directing Ms. Burrous to review the names on applications, identify those names that sounded white, and to interview only those applicants.
“Ms. Burrous opposed and refused to participate in the racially discriminatory hiring directive to hire white — not black — applicants. Instead, Ms. Burrous continued to hire the most qualified applicants for vacant positions, regardless of race or color.”
Burrous and Risk are white non-Hispanic.
Burrous claims Risk reprimanded her after seven of her eight April 2015 hires from an online applicant pool were African-American. When Burrous sought a transfer to another Tallahassee store, she said she wound up speaking with Area Manager Misa Levin.
The suit claims “Levin met with Ms. Burrous and Risk in person at the Apalachee Parkway location and angrily told Ms. Burrous that Risk was not solely responsible for the discriminatory directive; rather, it was she (Levin) who gave the directive based upon pressure from “upper management.”
Burrous soon resigned.
“Levin told Ms. Burrous that Whataburger’s ‘customer base is white and we want the faces behind the counter to match the customer base.’ Levin said she hoped the meeting would ‘put the fire out.’ ”