Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How Len Roberts Faced Down Corporate Racism - D Magazine

Originally published: November 30, 2016

It was 1992 and Len Roberts was in his third year as CEO at Shoney’s. The Nashville-based restaurant chain faced an ugly class action lawsuit, with former employees alleging that African-Americans were passed over for jobs and white managers were fired if they hired too many. Depositions laid out incriminating evidence about the company’s former leader, Ray Danner. Managers told of how he spat racial epithets and instituted a policy of blackening the letter “o” on Shoney’s job applications to identify black candidates.

“This company operated for decades with a culture of systemic racism,” recalled Roberts during a recent speech in Fort Worth, where he ran RadioShack before retiring in 2005. “Ray Danner and his executive team simply believed that blacks were bad for business.”

Shoney’s board didn’t believe the allegations, but Roberts was convinced the company would lose the case. So he decided to present an ultimatum. Roberts went to Danner’s house and told him that if he didn’t agree to settle the case within 24 hours and pay $130 million, Shoney’s would join the lawsuit on the side of the plaintiffs. And he presented strong evidence, including “never-before-seen photos of Danner getting dressed in his KKK outfit.”