A black man who says racial discrimination forced him to quit working at a Panera Bread restaurant has sued its franchisee, claiming the company doesn’t want black employees in positions where they interact with the public. His lawsuit echoes allegations by a white manager of the suburban Pittsburgh store who sued last year, claiming he was fired for defending the employee.
The defendant, Warren-based Covelli Enterprises, which operates nearly 200 Panera caf s in four states, contends the 21-year-old man walked off the job last year after he was disciplined for violating company dress code and health and safety policies. A company statement called the new lawsuit filed by Guy Vines and one filed in November by the fired manager, Scott Donatelli, “a coordinated attempt by two disgruntled former employees to discredit the company for a profit motive.”
Vines’ 12-page complaint, filed in federal court in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, echoes Donatelli’s, which alleges he was fired by Covelli for objecting to Vines’ treatment. The company said in its statement that it investigated Donatelli’s claims and called them “completely unfounded.”
But Sam Cordes, the attorney for both plaintiffs, writes in Vines’ lawsuit that the truth is much simpler.
“African-Americans were routinely assigned to jobs either in the back of the store washing dishes or doing food preparation so customers would not see them,” Cordes said.
The lawsuit alleges the company’s top managers dictated that “people who are ‘black, fat, and/or ugly’ should never be permitted to work the cash registers.”
The lawsuit contends Vines would be moved to the back of the store whenever owner Sam Covelli was at the Mount Lebanon location where Vines worked from November 2009 until he quit in August 2011, or whenever local or district managers expected a visit from Covelli.
The Covelli Enterprises statement contends Vines’ lawsuit is “riddled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the actions that led to Mr. Vines’ walking off the job.”