Lawsuit: Slurs, Coercion at BBQ Chain With Racist History

March 23, 2023by James Pollard, Associated Press
Lawsuit: Slurs, Coercion at BBQ Chain With Racist History
Bessinger's Bar-B-Q sign (Wikipedia)

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.

A+
a-

In The News

Health

Voting

Civil Rights

January 29, 2024
by Dan McCue
HHS Civil Rights Office Issues Guidance on Religious Non-Discrimination

WASHINGTON — The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights has issued guidance to U.S. hospital and... Read More

WASHINGTON — The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights has issued guidance to U.S. hospital and long-term care facility administrators, reminding them of their facility’s obligation not to discriminate on the basis of religion. The warning comes at a tense time across... Read More

Florida Republicans Oust State Party Chairman Facing Rape Allegations

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Republican Party of Florida ousted Chairman Christian Ziegler in a special vote on Monday as... Read More

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Republican Party of Florida ousted Chairman Christian Ziegler in a special vote on Monday as police investigate a rape accusation against him, a vote that came the week before Gov. Ron DeSantis competes in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucus. The party suspended Ziegler last month and... Read More

Ohio’s GOP Governor Vetoes Ban on Gender-Affirming Care and Transgender Athletes in Girls' Sports

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed a measure Friday that would have banned gender-affirming care for minors, casting... Read More

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed a measure Friday that would have banned gender-affirming care for minors, casting the action out of step with many in his own party as thoughtful, limited and “pro-life.” He simultaneously announced plans to move to administratively ban transgender... Read More

December 13, 2023
by Dan McCue
Supreme Court to Review Abortion Medication Dispute

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it will review a dispute over the popular abortion medication mifepristone, a... Read More

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it will review a dispute over the popular abortion medication mifepristone, a move that could have a sweeping impact not only on its use going forward, but also on the regulatory authority of the Food and Drug Administration.... Read More

December 6, 2023
by Dan McCue
Antisemitism at US Universities Takes Center Stage on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON — The four students, each from an elite university, stood pensively beneath Gilbert Stuart’s iconic life-size portrait of George... Read More

WASHINGTON — The four students, each from an elite university, stood pensively beneath Gilbert Stuart’s iconic life-size portrait of George Washington, which hangs in the Rayburn room of the U.S. Capitol. Talia Khan, Bella Engberg, Eyal Yakoby and Jonathan Frieden all looked like they’d prefer to... Read More

AP Exclusive: America's Black Attorneys General Talk Race, Politics and Justice System

BOSTON (AP) — The American legal system is facing a crisis of trust in communities around the country, with people... Read More

BOSTON (AP) — The American legal system is facing a crisis of trust in communities around the country, with people of all races and across the political spectrum. For many, recent protests against police brutality called attention to longstanding discrepancies in the administration of justice. For others, criticism... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top