Whataburger to pay $180K to settle Florida lawsuit after manager allegedly says to ‘hire white, and not black’ applicants

Employee complained and was forced to resign, lawsuit alleges

Whataburger (Whataburger)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Whataburger Restaurants LLC has agreed to pay $180,000 to settle a harassment and constructive discharge lawsuit after the general manager of a Florida store allegedly told her hiring manager to “hire white, and not black, applicants for employment," according to a news release.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the lawsuit alleging the general manager of a Whataburger restaurant in Tallahassee told her hiring manager, referred to as Ms. Burrows in a comment from the burger chain, to hire white applicants to “reflect the customer base where we do business."

In a comment sent to KSAT, Whataburger denies the allegations and said “in the timeframe of Ms. Burrous’s allegations, 81% of employees hired in the Tallahassee market were African American and 93% of new hires were African American at the restaurant where she worked.”

The hiring manager said she was subjected to physical and verbal abuse, threats, a schedule change and additional work assignments which forced her to resign, according to the lawsuit.

Whataburger also denies the allegations that it retaliated against Burrows.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from retaliating against employees who report or oppose workplace race discrimination.

“In this lawsuit, an employee risked her own livelihood to take a stand against race discrimination," regional attorney for the EEOC’s Miami District Robert Weisberg said. “We are pleased that Whataburger is compensating her and making positive changes to its workplace.”

The lawsuit also requires Whataburger to adopt new human resources policies, conduct live and computer-based training and maintain an anonymous hotline for complaints.

Whataburger said in a statement that the decision to settle was “purely as a business decision.”

Read the full statement Whataburger sent KSAT in regard to the lawsuit:

Whataburger is proud of its record of compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. As a brand, we pride ourselves on our inclusive workforce culture and always hire the best qualified applicant regardless of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, genetic information, disability, veteran status, age, or other status protected by law.

Our employees – whom we call Family Members – make the difference at Whataburger. We have a culture of Pride, Care and Love – meaning we have pride in our work, take care of each other and we absolutely love serving our customers. It’s a culture we’ve upheld for 70 years in our more than 830 restaurants – across a 10-state Whataburger footprint.

In order to stay true to these values, Whataburger remains committed to providing equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants.

Whataburger believes that the allegations in this lawsuit are false, disappointing and completely counter to the culture Whataburger lives and breathes every day. We value our brand as an employer for all and celebrate our extremely inclusive workforce.

Our commitment to inclusion is reflected in Whataburger’s hiring numbers in the Tallahassee, Florida, area where Ms. Burrous worked. In the timeframe of Ms. Burrous’s allegations, 81% of employees hired in the Tallahassee market were African American and 93% of new hires were African American at the restaurant where she worked.

Whataburger also denies the allegations that it retaliated against Ms. Burrous. Whataburger has taken great measures to provide employees with opportunities and avenues to discuss issues they might have with their supervisors. Outside of the restaurant, both upper management and human resource professionals were available to meet with employees.

Whataburger agreed to the terms of the Consent Decree in this case -- in large part -- because Whataburger already has in place most of what the Consent Decree requires. Among other requirements, and contrary to the Commission’s inference in its press release, Whataburger has for years maintained an anonymous hotline for employees to report concerns about their work environment, including potential discrimination, harassment or retaliation. Whataburger has a long history of robust policies and procedures that prohibit discrimination, harassment and retaliation. What’s more, Whataburger routinely provides training to all employees on those policies and procedures.

Despite having all of these proactive HR measures already in place, Whataburger decided to settle this protracted and exhausting legal matter purely as a business decision. The brand needed to focus its resources on our employees, customers and the communities we serve. Whataburger is dedicated to being a place where goodness lives.

About the Author:

Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.