Monday, August 27, 2012

A visit to a Cracker Barrel restaurant (in the early 1990s, it had been one of the most anti-gay employers known)

Saturday night, driving back to Washington up I-95, I decided to try dinner at the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store restaurant.  It’s elevated trademarked banner , on the west side of the highway, is the first sign to a motorist of having reached Fredericksburg, half way between Richmond and Washington.
The restaurant is actually hard to find, in a “Southpoint” shopping center (a counter to Northpoint in Dallas, maybe) that is complicated to find from the Interstate.

Cracker Barrel at one time was famous for its explicit policy requiring homosexual employees to be fired, implemented by founder Danny Evins, who died recently (story).

ABC 20-20 and other media outlets, around 1991, ran stories of cooks or waiters fired with personnel records saying “employee is gay”.

The policy was rescinded about the beginning of 1992.  In 2002, shareholders finally voted to include protection against sexual orientation discrimination in company policy.  But even today, signs at the restaurants (which include gaudy gift shops) don’t mention sexual orientation in non-discrimination service policies.

The food and service very good, and the history of the chain (which I suppose is franchised and is based in Tennessee) is interesting:  crackers used to be stored in huge wooden barrels.

I had stopped at a Cracker Barrel only once before, in December 1996, in Roanoke VA, on the way back from a weekend trip in West Virginia. 

A few days after that trip, I had a meeting with Human Resources at my own employer (then USLICO Corporation, which had been acquired by NWNL to become ReliaStar) about my upcoming “do ask do tell” book to avoid any conflict of interest problems, and I mentioned the Cracker Barrel issue.  The HR manager had never heard of it.  ReliaStar did have very progressive policies in the 1990s on the issue; USLICO, which was based on serving the military, simply didn’t mention or address it.

In the 1990s, the Security and Exchange Commission found itself in litigation for trying to nix a requirement that corporate boards respond to stockholder requests to address anti-discrimination policy, including sexual orientation.  That story and other actions are covered in a long history of the company on the New York Times site.  

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