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The Black O

The Black O

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 300
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  • Book Info
    The Black O
    Book Description:

    In 1988 several white managers of the Shoney's restaurant chain protested against the company's discriminatory hiring practices, including an order to blacken the "O" in "Shoney's" on minorities' job applications so that the marked forms could be discarded. When the managers refused to comply, they lost their jobs but not their resolve-they sued the company. Their case grew into the largest racial job discrimination class action lawsuit of its time. Shoney's eventually offered to settle out of court, and the nearly 21,000 claimants divided a $132.5 million settlement, bringing to an abrupt end a landmark case that changed corporate attitudes nationwide. The Black O is a fascinating, behind-the-scenes story populated with many unforgettable characters, including civil rights lawyer Tommy Warren, the former college football star and convicted felon who took the case; Ray Danner, the ironfisted former CEO who developed the Shoney's concept; and Justice Clarence Thomas, former head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sat idly by for years while complaints mounted against Shoney's. The Black O speaks to an issue that continues to have great urgency, serving as a stark refutation that the civil rights movement eliminated systemic discrimination from the workplace.

    eISBN: 978-0-8203-4403-4
    Subjects: Sociology, Management & Organizational Behavior, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. ONE “Shit Rolls Downhill. This Starts at the Top”
    (pp. 1-6)

    Ray Danner, the 266th richest man in America, chairman, CEO, and principal shareholder of the country’s second-largest family restaurant chain, a diminutive man whom Time magazine once described as “a thin, brown-haired version of Mickey Rooney,” held a cut of frozen flounder in the back of a quick-serve seafood restaurant in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, run by Ron Murphy, the only black manager out of dozens of Captain D’s in the Nashville area. The fish was underweight, one and one-half ounces instead of two, and Danner wasn’t happy.

    Danner stuck the flounder in an Igloo cooler and finished his surprise inspection of...

  5. TWO “Billie, You Got to See What’s Happening. You Got to See What’s Happening”
    (pp. 7-22)

    Tommy Warren wasn’t looking for work. The forty-year-old lawyer was renting a room for his part-time solo practice in the back of a rambling, two-story house that held the offices of another firm, Patterson and Traynham. His landlords were old friends of Warren in the Florida capital of Tallahassee, a city of a hundred thousand that in May 1988 still clung to its small-town roots despite the seasonal tide of legislators and lobbyists, and the forty thousand college students at two local universities, predominantly white Florida State and historically black Florida A&M. A pair of giant matriarch oaks, staples of...

  6. THREE “I Went Directly from a Necktie to a Shovel”
    (pp. 23-38)

    Tommy Warren came away from his first meeting with the Elliotts with three things convincing him that their story was true: their willingness to sign sworn statements; a commitment to locate other witnesses from Marianna and Panama City who could corroborate their story; and their prediction that a number of the blacks working at the Marianna Captain D’s would soon leave the store as the new manager, a young white woman named Debora Newton, took over to run the restaurant with the Suggses. That prediction proved accurate. Within a few weeks six black workers were either fired or forced to...

  7. FOUR “He Was the Boss. He Was the Tyrant. He Was the Dictator”
    (pp. 39-53)

    “One of the things that really made this case unique, and the Elliotts are the best example at the start, was how white people who were exposed to the policy or made to implement it came forward and told the behind-the-scenes, the behind-the-closed-door secret,” Warren told a reporter in 1993, during a breakfast interview at a Shoney’s restaurant. “Many of these folks just really were purging themselves of the guilt they felt when they finally had a chance to tell their story. . . . A lot were born and raised in the South, like a lot of us were,...

  8. FIVE “I Was Pretty Sure at That Point That There Was Going to Be War”
    (pp. 54-65)

    The Elliotts couldn’t find work.

    For weeks after they were fired both Billie and Henry knocked on doors, filled out applications, and waited for calls that never came. They filed for unemployment compensation. They grew frustrated with what they believed was a wall of prejudice that had suddenly gone up in white Marianna. Billie applied for her old job as a waitress at Union 76 but never heard anything, then she tried at a host of other restaurants, stores, and offices: Winn Dixie, Super C, Piggly Wiggly, TG&Y, The Movie Gallery, Payless Shoes, Russell Athletics, Sunland (a state facility for...

  9. SIX “This Is What You Hire Niggers For”
    (pp. 66-81)

    Barry Goldstein wasn’t surprised when Warren was “stuffed,” as both later called it, in his first attempt at a settlement in the Tallahassee meeting with Butch Powell. “It has been my experience that you usually can’t get a company’s attention in an employment discrimination suit,” he said, “until you hit them over the head with class certification,” official recognition by a federal judge that the common issues in a case affect a broad group of individuals and that the interests of that group can be best represented by a select number of named plaintiffs. To continue the case, therefore, Warren...

  10. SEVEN “A Trick of All Trades”
    (pp. 82-100)

    In 1966, Tommy Warren was everybody’s all-everything: All-City, All-State, All-South, Honorable Mention All-American. It was his senior year at Coral Gables High School and he had quarterbacked the football team to another state title the previous autumn. The year before that, with Warren playing halfback, they had been so good they were also awarded the mythical high-school national championship. Fifty-three universities from around the country waved scholarship offers, but Touchdown Tommy was too busy that spring playing baseball to worry about it too much. He had been a Miami boy all but the first two years of his life; his...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. EIGHT “Into the Belly of the Beast”
    (pp. 101-115)

    March 2, 1989. Tommy Warren is on a plane to Nashville. All the signs for months have been pointing him there. “Into the belly of the beast,” he calls it, though residents prefer “Music City” or “The Buckle of the Bible Belt” because of the saturation of local churches. So far, though, everything seems to be going wrong. Heavy thunderstorms cancel his connecting flight in Atlanta, so he’s hours late by the time he finally lands at the Nashville airport. On top of that, he can’t find the woman who is supposed to meet him, a paralegal named Carol Condon...

  13. NINE “We’re Going off Tackle, and You Can’t Stop Us”
    (pp. 116-135)

    On April 4, 1989, nearly a year after Henry and Billie Elliott were fired from their jobs, Barry Goldstein left his NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office to walk several blocks across Washington, D.C., to the well-appointed Connecticut Avenue offices of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, one of the largest and most powerful law firms in the country. He was hand-delivering a package to a man he’d known socially for some time, the corporate lawyer Stephen Tallent, immediately recognizable with his white beard and hair, corpulent figure, and omnipresent pipe. Tallent’s predecessor in Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher’s labor division, William...

  14. TEN “Due Diligence”
    (pp. 136-151)

    A few days after the original class complaint was filed, in April 1989, Tommy Warren received an unexpected call from Henry Elliott. Debora Newton, the woman who had been brought in to replace Henry as manager of the Marianna Captain D’s, had just contacted him, Henry said, and she wanted to talk.

    Warren agreed to meet with Newton, but only if she came to him on her own initiative, so Henry passed on the message and shortly after that Newton herself called. She had something to confess, she told Warren: she had misled EEOC investigators in her original response to...

  15. ELEVEN “The Niggers Are Going to Get This Company. Thank God You’re on Board.”
    (pp. 152-163)

    Len Roberts says he didn’t know the full extent of the lawsuit when he was hired as CEO and elected chairman of the board of Shoney’s, Inc. He had heard rumblings, and remembered reading something about it back in the spring, but with the moratorium Roberts, like many who were outside the company and not involved in the litigation, thought it had gone away. “At the time it didn’t sound like anything major” he says. “It sounded as if there were pockets of racial discrimination as there are in any large corporation. The only time it was an issue was...

  16. TWELVE “The Inexorable Zero”
    (pp. 164-179)

    When Barry Goldstein left the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the summer of 1989 to work on employment discrimination cases with Guy Saperstein’s firm, the Washington, D.C., Legal Times wrote a story about it. The headline was “Bad Timing.”

    The reason: the Reagan-stocked Supreme Court had just handed down several major decisions that would have a debilitating effect on civil rights plaintiffs and their ability to bring and win discrimination cases. “Chipping Away at Civil Rights” was Time magazine’s headline for a cover story on the rulings. By the time the Shoney’s moratorium ended in April 1990, those decisions had...

  17. THIRTEEN “A God-Made Man and a Self-Made Success”
    (pp. 180-188)

    As the case moved into the summer of 1990, Tommy Warren needed help. A few law students still put in part-time hours taking declarations from prospective witnesses—the sharpest of these was Mary Ellen Martin, who after passing the Bar stayed on as an attorney—but most of those hired in spring 1989 to handle the hotline had long since gone. A law clerk named Steve Mitchell had worked full-time for several months organizing a computer system for recording, indexing, and cross-referencing witnesses and their charges; after he quit, though, Warren and his legal secretary, Lynn Harvey (whose salary was...

  18. FOURTEEN “If They Didn’t Ask Specifics, I Didn’t Give Specifics”
    (pp. 189-200)

    Most of 1990 was a prelude, a long, contentious buildup to three critical hearings the following year before Judge Vinson. The first of those hearings took place on January 3, 1991, and though there were a dozen issues on the table, the strategy for the plaintiffs remained simple: with 140 sworn statements from anecdotal witnesses, extensive statistical evidence, Danner’s own admissions, the Wankat Letter, the inexorable zero—keep the focus on the merits of the case.

    And it was here, in oral arguments, that Barry Goldstein shined, laying out the theory of the case, the “vision” that Tommy Warren had...

  19. FIFTEEN “Why Didn’t You Deal with It for the Last Twenty Years?”
    (pp. 201-210)

    On May 20, 1991, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency charged by Congress with enforcing federal fair employment-practice laws, submitted a motion to file a small, fifteen-page legal brief with Judge Vinson in support of the plaintiffs’ class certification request in Haynes v. Shoney’s. The judge summarily rejected the motion for the “Amicus brief” in a one-sentence ruling: “This case already has too much paperwork, and the plaintiffs are adequately represented.” In a 1995 interview with the author, Judge Vinson was even more dismissive of the EEOC’s motion, stating that anyone attempting to get involved in the litigation at...

  20. SIXTEEN “We Decided to Roll the Dice”
    (pp. 211-227)

    Each of the three 1991 hearings on Haynes v. Shoney’s had its defining features. On January 3 it was Tanya Catani’s clandestine appearance to hear Tommy Warren speak, a bizarre move that cast plaintiffs’ attorneys Tony Lawson and Sam Smith in unexpected roles as courtroom detectives. That was also the hearing where Butch Powell brought up Tommy Warren’s “criminal convictions” before the judge. Several months later, in mid-September, the judge scheduled a second hearing, this one to resolve a host of discovery motions and to clear the deck for November, when he planned to hear oral arguments on the central...

  21. SEVENTEEN “If I Had It to Do Over Again, I Would Do the Same Thing”
    (pp. 228-234)

    Twenty-eight thousand, nine hundred and ninety-four claims were submitted in the Shoney’s settlement, which in the end, at Warren and Goldstein’s insistence, was expanded beyond the scope of the certified class to include all the Shoney’s divisions, though none of the franchise stores, and to cover the period from 1985 through November 3, 1992. Based on a complex formula approved by Judge Vinson to determine the validity of those claims and the amount due each legitimate claimant, 20,909 people ultimately received money from the $105 million settlement pool. The plaintiffs’ attorneys spent nearly $2 million to notify those claimants about...

    (pp. 235-246)
    (pp. 247-268)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 269-276)