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Sunday, March 3, 2024 | Back issues
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Panera Franchiser to Pay for Keeping ‘Ugly’ Down

(CN) - Panera Bread can put some extra money in the pockets of workers who claim that it denied promotions to "fat, black, and/or ugly" employees, a federal judge ruled.

In a January 2012 complaint, lead plaintiff Guy Vines claimed that he worked as a sandwich maker at Panera Bread from 2009 to 2011, but that his manager said black workers like him were ineligible for promotion to management.

In forbidding Vines from working as a cashier, the same manager also allegedly said "customers would not want to see an African-American working in the front of the store." The manager said he feared he would lose his job for disobeying this rule, according to the complaint.

Vines claimed that Covelli Enterprises, the franchiser behind the Panera where he worked, created racially segregated environments for 200 to 300 western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio employees since 2008.

He said Covelli prohibited "fat, black, and/or ugly" employees from working in the view of customers and denying them promotion.

The parties attended mediation on April 13 and reached a formal settlement in July.

In addition to a $10,000 payment for Vines, plus attorneys' fees and costs, Covelli agreed to give each class member an extra $0.70 for each hour he worked in excess of his or her first year of employment through the date of the final court-approved settlement.

Chief U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster in Pittsburgh explained last month why he granted the settlement preliminary approval.

"Here, the class members allege that they were flatly ineligible for promotion because of their race and regardless of their job performance," the 20-page opinion states. "They allege that this prohibition, although not written down anywhere, was the rule at all of defendant's restaurants, and that defendant's managers disobeyed it at their peril. This question of law and fact applies evenly across the class and is sufficient to ensure that 'the action can be practically maintained and that the interests of the absentees will be fairly and adequately represented.'"

The settlement terms also passed scrutiny.

"The class members are receiving a cash payment in the amount of the additional wages they would have received had they been promoted to the management position they desired," Lancaster wrote. "Accordingly, the court finds that the proposed settlement is presumptively fair, within the range of reasonableness, and is not obviously deficient in any way."

He gave final approval last week after a fairness hearing.

The three-page order states that no class members opted out of the settlement or filed objections.

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