Get Out of the Door, Domino’s

Discrimination may after all, not be the news, considering it could well be the norm of the day.

Even when it involves business concerns in corporate America of contemporary times.

If the irony hits, read this article by Doris Lester:
(also used here, with permission)

The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a racial discrimination case the week of December 5th involving Domino’s Pizza, Inc. that will decide whether a Las Vegas Black businessman who claims Domino’s discriminated against him can sue even though the pizza chain claims he was only indirectly affected by its action.

The American Civil Liberties Union is representing John McDonald, who claims his fight with Domino’s caused him to go bankrupt in 2000. He has sued the corporation for emotional distress and financial loss of approximately $8 million. And he claims that a company official told him that she “[didn’t] like dealing with you people anyway” and later that Domino’s would “bury you.”

The case is the most prominent racial discrimination case the court, now led by newly installed Chief Justice John G. Roberts, a Bush appointee, has on its docket so far. At issue is whether an injured individual, who suffered injury as a result of deliberate actions by a corporation, can sue under provisions of 19th century civil rights laws. The laws, the 14th and 15th amendments, bar racial discrimination in the making or enforcing of contracts.

Domino’s has maintained that McDonald has no case because the business relationship was between itself and JWM Investments — McDonald’s one-man company. Company officials also insist that the lease with JWM was cancelled five years ago because there were too many construction delays on building a third and fourth store.

Domino’s officials however, according to McDonald, fail to mention that their “flagrant interference” with Las Vegas officials and the Nevada First Bank caused those delays. McDonald also says that Domino’s’ officials “caused additional delays by illegally removing his name from state and city licenses in attempts to cancel his line of credit.”

Another misrepresentation according to McDonald, is that Domino’s senior officials have quietly been insinuating that they “settled” with McDonald for $45,000 after JWM went bankrupt. The truth, says McDonald, is that the amount was what Domino’s paid to a Las Vegas Bankruptcy Trustee in a deal Domino’s made for the JWM assets.

A Las Vegas federal court agreed with Domino’s, that only JWM could bring suit. But the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in an opinion that was not published, affirmed McDonald’s right as an individual to sue for personal damages. Domino’s then appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court.

If the Supreme Court affirms the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, McDonald could personally sue Domino’s for racial discrimination and personal injury. Most legal scholars dispute Domino’s claim that this would open a floodgate of individual suits against businesses. But they do agree that a favorable ruling for McDonald would preserve what Congress intended in the 14th and 15th amendments.

The civil rights community has come to McDonald’s defense. A host of civil rights legal watchdogs—including the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Legal Momentum (formerly known as the National Organization of Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund) and the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium—have all filed a friend-of-the-court brief in McDonald’s behalf.

“Recognizing that victims of intentional racial discrimination have a cause of action for their personal injuries under the circumstances presented in this case is consistent with Congress’ intention that [existing federal law] foster minority participation in the marketplace,” stated the brief, which was also signed by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Minority Business Enterprise Legal Defense and Education Fund and the National Minority Supplier Development Council, Inc.

It continues: “It would be more than unfortunate if millions of minority business owners like McDonald were forced to choose between the advantages of the corporate form and the availability of remedies for personal injuries resulting from violations of their civil rights. Minority business owners should not be forced to check their race at the door.”

Other briefs in support of McDonald are being filed by several states and territories, including: New York, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montana, Vermont, the United States Virgin Islands and Wisconsin.

McDonald’s problems with Domino’s began in 2000, when JWM, a tiny real estate company, entered into four 20-year leases with the huge Michigan-based chain to build and operate four Nevada restaurants. McDonald’s company completed the first two restaurants, but zoning and financing problems initiated by Domino’s plagued the third and fourth pizza parlors.

Domino’s abruptly changed its terms with McDonald one week after meeting him for the first time. The meeting was a gathering of Domino’s 6,000 American franchisees, of which McDonald was the only African-American. After the gathering, Domino’s demanded that McDonald change the length of the four 20-year leases to 30-day agreements. When McDonald refused, Domino’s moved in to cancel the leases, using the excuse that the delays they had caused were unacceptable.

During this period, a Domino’s senior official, Deborah Pear Phillips, not only threatened McDonald’s financial standing, but told him at one point during the dispute that “I don’t like dealing with you people anyway.”

The corporate giant has said that Pear’s remark was only directed to the company, not to the race of its owner.

With more than 6,000 American franchises and more than 2,000 additional stores around the world, Domino’s has had to deal with several public racial and cultural flare-ups over the last decade.

In several American cities, including St. Louis, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, several towns and cities in Florida and in Washington, D.C., local franchises have caused controversy by creating and enforcing a policy of refusing to deliver in certain sections. These sections are always heavily populated by working-class people of color.

In Tarpon Springs, Fla., the local franchise refused to deliver to Black parts of town in 2002, and then reversed its decision after strong community outrage.

Five years ago in Washington, D.C., the Superior Court dismissed a $30 million lawsuit against the pizza giant, affirming its right to stipulate that Southwest Washington patrons pay for and pick up their orders in the street instead of at the door.

A deal that same year between Domino’s and the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division insured that, by law, Domino’s would make delivery decisions only based on its employees’ safety, not on race. But the pizza giant’s negative reputation in some Black communities have continued because of its delivery policies.

Also in 2000, Domino’s dropped its ban requiring its employees to shave their beards. This followed a 12-year legal fight in which a Singh man charged the corporate giant with employment discrimination due to religion.

In 1998, Domino’s had to apologize to a Haitian man in St. Petersburg, Fla., after he found the words “DIRTY HAITIAN” on the computer label on the box marking his pie.

Domino’s main office and 21 of its Atlanta franchises were the targets of a 1992 racial discrimination lawsuit by nine former and then-current employees in that city. They charged then that they had not gotten deserved raises and promotions — or the opportunity to buy franchises.

Domino’s has held the racial makeup of its franchisees a close secret. However, after McDonald filed his suit in 2000, a single African-American franchise owner from Houston, Texas called him to announce that Domino’s had quickly recruited the Houston man as an owner.


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