A Black woman says she experienced sexual harassment from a general manager at a South Carolina barbecue chain, which in the past has supported segregation and embraced the Confederate flag.
According to a lawsuit filed earlier this week by the woman, general manager Jeff Harrison coerced her into a sexual relationship with promises of a raise while she was working at a Maurice’s Piggie Park BBQ location in Columbia, NBC News reports.
The woman, who remains unidentified as the alleged victim of sexual assault, said she quit her job after Harrison grew “irate” and “more threatening” when she declined his sexual advances.
Her lawsuit comes after Damien Wooden, another Black former employee, sued the barbecue chain last month after Harrison allegedly left him racist voicemails with slurs and threatened to break his jaw.
Both of the former employees’ lawsuits accuse Maurice’s Piggie Park BBQ of negligent supervision and allege that the manager intentionally inflicted emotional distress, assault, and battery.
The BBQ chain is no stranger to accusations of racism and bigotry. In 1964, one waitress refused to take two Black customers’ orders due to his religious opposition to racial integration. 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 step forward in the civil rights movement.
In 2000, owner Maurice Bessinger flew Confederate flags outside of all of his restaurants in opposition to the South Carolina Legislature’s move to remove it from the dome of the state Capitol.
In light of the recent lawsuits, Lloyd Bessinger, president of Maurice’s Piggie Park BBQ, 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.”
However, civil rights attorney Bakari Sellers believes the company hasn’t learned from its racist past.
“It’s a cultural issue more than anything else and they just haven’t done enough,” Sellers said. “It just shows there’s a long way to go, to say the least.”
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