SHERMAN - A Dallas pastor and members of her church are seeking $4.5 million in a lawsuit against Cracker Barrel for racial discrimination and assault after a staff member gave them a threatening note.

Margelee Hylton, Tony Hylton, Tomeka Choice individually and on behalf of her two minor children Diamond Choice and Jeremiah Choice, Shenequa Johnson and Chonthena Connors filed suit against Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. on April 17 in the Eastern District of Texas, Sherman Division.

"This case arises out of an all too frequent act of blatant racism at the local Cracker Barrel," the suit states. "At an after-church lunch, Pastor Hytlon, her husband, members of her congregation, and their children — all African-Americans — were treated to repeated slights by Cracker Barrel staff ..."

According the lawsuit, the plaintiffs were all subjected to pervasive and intentional discrimination when they were subjected to extremely poor and disproportionate service relative to white customers, segregated seating, racial slurs, threats of bodily harm, and offensive physical contact."

The alleged incident occurred on April 18, 2009, as Rev. Margelee Hylton and members of her congregation entered the Lewisville restaurant for lunch. The group states they waited an inordinate amount of time before being seated, and were then seated near the kitchen at the back of the restaurant.

After waiting for service and their food, the group was leaving when a Cracker Barrel employee allegedly handed them a note which stated: "Guns aren't lawful; Nooses give; Gas smells awful; You might as well live."

The plaintiffs complained to the cashier and to the manager but claim they were non-responsive.

The defendants are accused of racial discrimination, negligent hiring, supervision, training and retaining, assault, threat of bodily injury and offensive physical contact and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

According to the lawsuit, the Department of Justice filed and settled a lawsuit in May 2004 regarding alleged discrimination against African-American customers at Cracker Barrel restaurants nationwide. As part of the settlement agreement, Cracker Barrel was required to hire an outside auditor to ensure compliance with nondiscrimination policies and procedures.

The plaintiffs are seeking more than $4.5 million damages for embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety, pain and suffering, severe emotional distress, penalties, attorney's fees, interest and punitive damages.

The plaintiffs are represented by Jamie R. Welton of Lackey Hershman in Dallas.

U.S. District Judge Richard A. Schneider is assigned to the case.

Case No. 4:11-cv-00211

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