In a span of only a few months, big-name companies such as In-N-Out Burger, Wet Seal and Dunkin' Donuts have all been hit with racial discrimination suits. If the allegations made in the lawsuits are true, they indicate that corporate America regards people of color as disposable and that whites remain the most valued workers of all. Given this, it's no wonder that minority communities haven't weathered the recession as well as other groups.
On Friday, two African Americans who applied for work at burger chain In & Out filed suit against the company for discrimination. The suit alleges that the two men were qualified for the positions they sought but denied employment at In & Out because of their race and age.
According to the suit, very few of the workers at In-N-Out's 210 restaurants in California are black or over the age of 40. In-N-Out Burger VP Arnie Wensinger denies the charges, noting that his company hires employees "from our local communities and our restaurants reflect the demographics of that community."
The two men who filed the lawsuit applied for work in Oakland and San Francisco, an area of California with a high percentage of blacks. Because I don't know how many blacks work at In-N-Out restaurants in the Bay Area, it's difficult to say whether the men's claim that "very few" blacks work in In-N-Outs has weight. Blacks, after all, are not a very large group in California. There are more whites, Latinos and Asian-Americans in the Golden State than African Americans, so who knows if blacks are underrepresented at In-N-Out because the chain is discriminating against them or because blacks make up only 6.6 percent of California's population. This isn't to say that the men were not discriminated against. They may very well have been, but the reports I've seen about the incident don't detail why the men thought bigotry factored into their job application experiences. In this economy, plenty of qualified job applicants get turned down for work all the time, so the fact that they were qualified to do a job they didn't get doesn't necessarily make discrimination the culprit.
On the other hand, the case against Wet Seal looks much more damning. African-American Nicole Cogdell, a former store manager of the retailer, said in a suit filed in July that company president Barbara Bachman made racially tinged remarks about her. Upon learning that Cogdell worked as store manager at Wet Seal's location in the King of Prussia mall in Pennsylvania, Bachman reportedly exclaimed: "That's the store manager? I wanted someone with blonde hair and blue eyes." Four days later Cogdell was fired. Her replacement? A white woman who was paid more than she was despite having a poorer job record than Cogdell, Jezebel.com reports.
But that's not all. Bachman also reportedly complained in an email that too many blacks worked in Wet Seal stores. She allegedly remarked, "African Americans dominate -- huge issue."
Not to be outdone by Wet Seal is Dunkin' Donuts. A suit filed against the food chain in late August by former franchisees alleges that Dunkin' Donuts discriminates against "minority owners, particularly African-Americans, by pushing them to buy in poor, less profitable areas," the New York Post reports. Meanwhile white franchisees are offered prime franchise locations. Blacks own about 50 Dunkin' Donuts franchises, but most of those are in economically depressed areas. The suit also alleges that Dunkin' Donuts stops franchisees of color from expanding their stores, effectively preventing them from becoming profitable.
I don't know if each of the claims in these lawsuits are true, but they certainly raise concerns about the ways that race and capitalism intersect in the United States. Far too many Americans continue to believe that minorities aren't as affluent as whites are because they're unwilling to work hard. Have they ever considered what it's like to work in a labor force in which dark skin all too often closes doors rather than opens them?