May 25th, 1994

Denny's Restaurant Pays Historic Settlement in Racial Discrimination Suit

During the early 1990's, Denny's Restaurants (particularly franchises located in Southern California) were accused of widespread discrimination against black customers. Complaints alleged racially segregated customer seating and forcing black customers to pay for their meals before eating. With the assistance of the Justice Department and then-Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Deval Patrick, more than 4000 individuals filed claims in federal court.

The plaintiffs alleged that their rights had been violated under the provisions of Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Known as the Public Accommodations Act, Title II was developed specifically to end segregation in hotels and restaurants. The law had not been applied widely in class-action suits, where charges of discrimination are usually made by employees and not paying customers.

Fearing the negative publicity associated with widespread accusations of racial discrimination, Denny's settled the lawsuits collectively without litigation. On May 25, 1994, Flagstaff Companies, Denny's parent organization, agreed to pay $54.4 million - the largest settlement ever reached under federal public accommodation laws - to settle the pending federal lawsuits.

The case represented a significant victory for civil rights advocates, and $28 million was earmarked to compensate victims of Denny's discriminatory policies. Although Flagstaff Companies did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement, it did agree to retain an independent civil rights monitor to prevent future discrimination.


May 25th, 1963

White Dock Workers in Mobile, Alabama, Riot After Black Workers Promoted

On May 25, 1943, a riot broke out at the Alabama Dry Dock Shipping Company (ADDSCO) after 12 African Americans were promoted to “highly powered” positions.

The Alabama Dry Dock and Shipping Company built and maintained U.S. Navy Ships during World War I and World War II. During World War II, the company was the largest employer in Mobile. In 1941, the company began hiring African-American men in unskilled positions. By 1943, Mobile shipyards employed 50,000 workers and African-American men and women held 7000 of those jobs. This increase in black employees did not please white workers.

In the spring of 1943, in response to President Roosevelt's Fair Employment Practices Committee issuing directives to elevate African Americans to skilled positions, as well as years of pressure from local black leaders and the NAACP, the Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Company reluctantly agreed to promote twelve black workers to the role of welder. Shortly after the new welders finished their first shift, an estimated 4000 white shipyard workers and community members attacked any black employee they could find with pipes, clubs, and other dangerous weapons. Two black men were thrown into the Mobile River while others jumped in to escape serious injury. The National Guard was called to restore order. Although no one was killed, more than fifty people were seriously injured, and several weeks passed before African-American workers could safely return to work.

Many white employees refused to return to work unless they received a guarantee that African Americans would no longer be hired. However, the federal government intervened and the company created four segregated shipways where African Americans could hold any position with the exception of foreman. African Americans working on the rest of the shipyard were regulated to the low-paying, unskilled tasks they had historically performed.