UNITED STATES NEWS

Lawsuit: Slurs, coercion at BBQ chain with racist history

Mar 23, 2023, 7:04 AM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A South Carolina barbecue chain known for its pro-segregation stance in a landmark 1960s case and its embrace of the Confederate flag in 2000 is facing allegations of racism and sexual harassment by the fired general manager of one of its restaurants.

According to a lawsuit filed this week by a Black woman who worked at a Maurice’s Piggie Park BBQ location in Columbia, the man who ran it, general manager Jeff Harrison, coerced her early last year into a sexual relationship with promises of a raise, which he paid.

She says she quit after he grew “irate” and “more threatening” when she rebuffed his additional sexual advances. The Associated Press isn’t naming the woman because she is an alleged victim of sexual abuse.

In a separate lawsuit brought last month by Damien Wooden, another Black former employee, Wooden contends that Harrison left him racist voicemails including slurs and threatening to break his jaw after he told Harrison to stop calling and harassing the female employee who quit.

The lawsuits, which seek undisclosed damages, accuse the company of negligent supervision and accuse Harrison of intentionally inflicting emotional distress, assault and battery.

The AP did not hear back after leaving messages Wednesday evening with multiple listed phone numbers and an email address believed to be Harrison’s.

A company receptionist told the AP that Maurice’s Piggie Park BBQ had no comment. Its president, Lloyd Bessinger, told ABC Columbia News that the company “does not condone or accept any sexual or racial behavior.”

“When I heard of Mr. Harrison’s behavior I fired him imminently,” Bessinger said in the statement. “We are a local family business that supports the community by providing jobs & great BBQ for 60 years.”

But the plaintiffs’ lawyers said the incidents show that leaders haven’t learned from the company’s past bigotry.

In 1964, a waitress at a Piggie Park Drive-In refused to take two Black customers’ order. Owner Maurice Bessinger justified his refusal to serve Black customers inside his stores — conveyed through window signs — based on his religious opposition to racial integration. In a lawsuit over the matter, a federal judge ruled in 1966 that such beliefs couldn’t be practiced “in utter disregard of the clear constitutional rights of other citizens” — marking a victory for the civil rights movement.

The U.S. Supreme Court later called Bessinger’s religious freedom argument “patently frivolous” in a 1968 decision that established attorneys’ fees could be awarded to plaintiffs in successful civil rights cases.

In 2000, Bessinger opposed the South Carolina Legislature’s removal of the Confederate flag from the dome of the state Capitol by flying it outside of all his restaurants. Walmart then banned the restaurant chain’s famous mustard-based barbecue sauce during an NAACP-led boycott that Bessinger claimed cost him $20 million, according to The State newspaper.

“It’s a cultural issue more than anything else and they just haven’t done enough,” said Bakari Sellers, a civil rights attorney and former Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. “It just shows there’s a long way to go, to say the least.”

—-

James Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

United States News

Associated Press

‘Catch-and-kill’ to be described to jurors as testimony resumes in hush money trial of Donald Trump

NEW YORK (AP) — A longtime tabloid publisher was expected Tuesday to tell jurors about his efforts to help Donald Trump stifle unflattering stories during the 2016 campaign as testimony resumes in the historic hush money trial of the former president. David Pecker, the former National Enquirer publisher who prosecutors say worked with Trump and […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

America’s child care crisis is holding back moms without college degrees

AUBURN, Wash. (AP) — After a series of lower-paying jobs, Nicole Slemp finally landed one she loved. She was a secretary for Washington’s child services department, a job that came with her own cubicle, and she had a knack for working with families in difficult situations. Slemp expected to return to work after having her […]

5 hours ago

Several hundred students and pro-Palestinian supporters rally at the intersection of Grove and Coll...

Associated Press

Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at New York University and Yale, and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public Monday as some of the most prestigious U.S. universities sought to defuse campus tensions over Israel’s war with Hamas. More than 100 pro-Palestinian demonstrators who […]

7 hours ago

Ban on sleeping outdoors under consideration in Supreme Court...

Associated Press

With homelessness on the rise, the Supreme Court weighs bans on sleeping outdoors

The Supreme Court is wrestling with major questions about the growing issue of homelessness as it considers a ban on sleeping outdoors.

8 hours ago

Arizona judge declares mistrial in case of rancher who shot migrant...

Associated Press

Arizona judge declares mistrial in the case of a rancher accused of fatally shooting a migrant

An Arizona judge declared a mistrial in the case of rancher accused of killing a Mexican man on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border.

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Trial opens for former Virginia hospital medical director accused of sexual abuse of ex-patients

NEW KENT, Va. (AP) — The former longtime medical director of a Virginia hospital that serves vulnerable children used physical examinations as a “ruse” to sexually abuse two teenage patients, a prosecutor said Monday, while the physician’s attorney “adamantly” denied any inappropriate conduct. The trial of Daniel N. Davidow of Richmond, who for decades served […]

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

Lawsuit: Slurs, coercion at BBQ chain with racist history