Newsweek • Robin Urevich
Last month, when President-elect Donald Trump named fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder to head the U.S. Department of Labor, many observers were left scratching their heads. Some questioned whether a man who’d argued strongly against government regulation could become the chief enforcer of some of the same overtime and paid sick day laws he’d publicly opposed. Less than a year ago, Puzder said he favored replacing some employees with robots, in part because robots don’t file age, sex or race discrimination lawsuits.
Puzder, who heads CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s burger joints, along with Red Burrito and Green Burrito shops, has also loudly proclaimed his opposition to Obamacare, as well as his enthusiasm for using sex to sell fast food. Carl’s Jr. ads routinely feature bikini-clad models lustfully gobbling thousand-calorie burgers. “We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers,” reads a 2011 company press release.
What is less well known is the company’s contentious record on civil rights. As Puzder, who is an attorney, may have inadvertently suggested in touting robots to replace workers, the company has a problem with racial discrimination and sexual harassment.
Dozens of Discrimination Cases
A Capital & Main investigation has found that since Puzder became CEO of CKE in 2000, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s have been hit with more federal employment discrimination lawsuits than any other major U.S. hamburger chain. As a defendant in such cases, it is number one among burger chains with $1 billion or more in annual sales, with a higher percentage of racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits filed by employees than McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and five other competitors. Only Sonic Drive In had a higher percentage of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) cases among burger restaurants with more than $1 billion in annual sales.
Racial discrimination and sexual harassment claims filed in federal court against the company and its franchisees read like stories from the 1940s or ‘50s, before civil rights laws were ever enacted.
In 2000, Michal Harris-Galloway, who was a teenager at the time, began flipping burgers at a Carl’s Jr. in Elk Grove, near Sacramento, California. Two years later, work had become a nightmare for Harris-Galloway, who is African-American, when a company supervisor regularly used the N-word and spewed hate speech at work, according to an EEOC summary of her federal complaint. The EEOC summary of the charges against CKE claimed the boss shared his view that white people were superior to those of other races. He boasted about the Confederate flag that he said flew over his home, and displayed a swastika and other white-power tattoos, and said he planned to ink another on his forehead depicting a black lynching victim.