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SHORT CUTS / Cracker Barrel Hit With $100M Racism Suit

TWENTY-ONE PEOPLE FILED a $100 million federal lawsuit

against Cracker Barrel restaurants yesterday, accusing the chain of widespread

racism by segregating black customers in the smoking section - even if they did

not smoke - and denying them service.

Witnesses said they "observed African-American customers being made to pay

for their meals before being served, and white employees of Cracker Barrel

serving African-American customers food from the trash," according to the suit

filed in federal court in Rome, Ga.

It was the largest civil rights lawsuit against a restaurant chain since

Denny's settled a $46 million discrimination suit in 1994.

The suit accuses Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. of Lebanon, Tenn.,

of systematic discrimination and documents acts of alleged racism in 175 cities

in 30 states. The restaurant chain, which for years has been known for its

country store motif and homestyle cooking, owns and operates 450 restaurants in

37 states.

Cracker Barrel chief executive Donald M. Turner said the charges are false.

He said the company will fight them all the way to court "if it comes to

that."

"We take very seriously our commitment to treat all customers fairly,"

Turner said. "We believe in good service - and good service is color-blind."

The plaintiffs are represented by one of the nation's largest civil rights

law firms, Gordon, Silberman, Wiggins & Childs in Washington, D.C.

"The descriptions of the treatment endured by African-American customers in

these restaurants is appalling," attorney David Sanford said. "It can't be the

case that Cracker Barrel doesn't know about it. We have enough evidence right

now to suggest that Cracker Barrel, to the very highest level, is responsible."

Statements by 310 current and former Cracker Barrel workers, more than half

of them white, back up the allegations of company-wide discrimination, the

suit says.

In a 1999 suit, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored

People alleged that Cracker Barrel discriminated against black employees,

paying them less than their white counterparts and passing them over for

promotion. A Cracker Barrel vice president said the firm has been doing staff

training focusing on diversity issues for the past six years.

BLEAK OUTLOOK FOR USX. USX-U.S. Steel Group, which is in consolidation

talks with other U.S. steel firms, gave a bleak fourth-quarter outlook

yesterday, while two smaller companies involved in the talks announced

management changes. U.S. Steel, the country's biggest steel company, said that

shipments would be "well below" its third quarter and forecast flat pricing,

higher production costs and lower capacity utilization rates.

Separately, Bethlehem Steel Corp., which together with U.S. Steel is

leading the consolidation effort, said its president and three other senior

executives resigned. And LTV Corp. named a new chief executive and said it was

seeking a buyer for its Copperweld unit, now part of its metals fabrication

segment. LTV has also been named as a participant in the proposed merger.

AETNA CUTTING 6,000 JOBS. Aetna Inc. is slashing 6,000 jobs, about 16

percent of its work force, as the nation's largest health insurer struggles

with rising medical costs and declining enrollment. Most of the cuts will be in

California, Georgia, Louisiana and the St. Louis area. About 1,600 of the

positions will be cut through attrition, with 4,400 coming through layoffs.

BOEING WILL KEEP BUILDING 717. Boeing Co. said it will keep manufacturing

its slow-selling 717 jetliner but at a reduced production rate reflecting lower

demand. While stopping short of scrapping the 100-passenger plane, as Boeing

said eight weeks ago it might do, the decision means further layoffs at the

4,500-worker plant in Long Beach, Calif., that assembles it.

PRATT & WHITNEY STRIKE SETTLED. Pratt & Whitney's machinists voted to end

their 10-day-old strike against the Hartford-based jet engine maker, accepting

a contract offer that included new promises of job security.

GUCCI CUTTING U.S. WORK FORCE. Luxury goods company Gucci Group NV is

cutting its U.S. work force by 14 percent as it seeks to offset an industry

downturn triggered by a slump in tourism after the Sept. 11 attacks. "We have

told our United States work force that we are cutting 130 of the 950 jobs

there," the company said.

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