To celebrate our 40th anniversary in 2017, Virginia Legal Aid Society is telling 40 stories that reflect our history, our people and the cases and events that have made the past 40 years so memorable. These will be released over the next 40 weeks, finishing at our gala celebration on November 17 in Farmville at the Moton Museum.

Anne[1] had been working for a Prince Edward County restaurant since 1984, rising to store manager in June 1996, allowing her to make all the decisions on hiring and firing employees and all the day-to-day operating decisions. She had been receiving good feedback from her boss on her job performance until, one day in February 1997, she was told without warning that management was removing her from her position because of high food costs.

Anne, an African American, had little doubt the real reason had nothing to do with food costs. She had seen supervisors come in over the years and speak to store managers about high food costs, but they never removed a manager for that reason without ever bringing it up before.

The supervisors and restaurant owner had brought up another subject – about once a month for seven or eight years. They had asked about the ratio of white to African American employees. She had been told on occasion to reduce the hours of some black employees, to encourage them to quit.  She remembered when a previous store manager had fired an African American employee, telling the employee he had to let her go because the restaurant needed a white person to work her breakfast shift hours.

In January, about a month before she lost her job, Anne said a supervisor showed her a written statement to another restaurant manager in the area from the same company. The statement told the other store manager, Susan[2] that her mix of employees had to match the area’s demographics, which meant 70% of her employees should be white, 30% black. To hit that goal, 90% of her new hires had to be white.

A month later, Anne was told she was being demoted to an assistant manager’s position and transferred to a different company store in the area. When she asked for a chance to bring down her food costs, she was told the decision was final.

That evening, Anne received a call from Susan. According to Susan, upper management had told her Anne lost her job because they wanted to give that job to a white employee. And, indeed,

Anne had been replaced by a white assistant manager who

  • Had been with the company less than a year
  • Leap-frogged two other store assistant managers to get the position and
  • Would be paid $50 a week more than Anne had been.

To add to the insult, Anne had trained the assistant manager who replaced her. Susan told her that management actually had planned from the start to replace Anne with a white woman as soon as they could.

The next day, Anne told the company she would quit rather than accept the demotion. A few weeks later, after she was turned down for unemployment benefits, she contacted Virginia Legal Aid Society.

In Part II, we discuss Anne’s case.

[1] Her name is changed in this story to protect the privacy of both her and the company she worked for.

[2] Also not her real name.

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