ATLANTA – A group of blacks sued the Waffle House (search) chain Tuesday, claiming they were discriminated against at restaurants in three Georgia cities.
The Georgia lawsuit joins three others recently filed in North Carolina, Alabama and Virginia against the Norcross, Ga.-based company and its franchisees, who are accused of maintaining a pattern of discrimination and violating federal civil rights laws (search).
The company denied allegations that it fosters an environment of discrimination, saying in a statement Tuesday that its policy was to train workers "to treat all customers equally."
"Waffle House Inc. has no tolerance for discrimination in our restaurants, and we react swiftly and decisively if we find a violation of our anti-discrimination policies," it added.
The four lawsuits, along with 20 others filed in six Southern states, allege that servers announced they would not serve black customers, deliberately served unsanitary food to minority patrons, ignored blacks while providing prompt service to whites, directed racial epithets at blacks and became verbally abusive when asked to wait on blacks.
One of the plaintiffs, Sharon Perry, 31, said a worker required her to prepay for a meal at a Waffle House in Savannah.
"I was shocked. I was disgusted by her attitude," Perry said. "When she spoke to us it was like we shouldn't have been there." She added that the other black patrons said they also had to pay upfront for their meals.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (search) joined lawsuits in two of the states and endorsed the others.
"The NAACP supports this effort to obtain justice and respect for African American consumers and other people of color," Angela Ciccolo, NAACP's interim chief counsel, said in a statement Tuesday. "The NAACP will continue to demand fair and equal treatment and respect for African-Americans and other people of color in dining establishments."
Waffle House operates and franchises about 1,400 restaurants in 25 states.
Company spokesman Pat Warner pointed to two previous discrimination lawsuits by black customers — one in South Carolina and one in North Carolina — in which juries ruled in favor of Waffle House.
"It was total victory in the first two," he said.