Jerry Richardson is no stranger to incidents involving race
Even before he bought Panthers, his restaurant company faced discrimination lawsuits
The Carolina Panthers have a black quarterback in Cam Newton. A Latino head coach in Ron Rivera. And, with the naming of a new chief operating officer on Monday, one of the highest-ranking female executives in the NFL: Tina Becker.
In elevating Becker to COO, an amazing ascent for a woman who started with the team as director of cheerleaders, the Panthers have emerged as an example of what diversity in an organization should look like.
Yet the bombshell report by Sports Illustrated on Sunday exposed a good ol’ boy atmosphere under soon-to-be-departed owner Jerry Richardson that highlighted accusations of racist remarks and sexual harassment by the man who brought professional football to North Carolina.
It’s not the first time allegations of questionable business practices or incidents involving race have been reported about Richardson or a business he owns. Let’s start with the most recent one:
Two days after the Carolina Panthers announced that an outside law firm would investigate allegations of workplace misconduct, Richardson announced that he was selling his ownership in the team. The news that Richardson was putting the team up for sale came on the day of Sports Illustrated’s report that alleges:
- Richardson invited female employees to his suite at Bank of America Stadium, where, one woman told Sports Illustrated, he would “give back rubs that lingered too long or went too low down the spine.”
- A seat belt routine would occasionally result in Richardson allegedly brushing his hand over a woman’s breast under the guise of fastening her seat belt.
- Richardson would ask to shave the legs of female employees.
- Richard used a racial slur in addressing an African-American scout for the Panthers. A settlement was negotiated for the scout, who left the team this year.
- Several former Panthers employees have received settlements because of alleged inappropriate comments and behavior.
Richardson cried while taking a stance against domestic violence when he was awarded the Echo Award Against Indifference. But at the same time his team didn’t take immediate action against Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy, who was being investigated for a domestic violence incident.
Hardy played one game for the Panthers during the 2014 season before being placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. The Panthers declined to sign him at the end of the season.
Before drafting Newton with the top overall pick in 2011, Richardson asked his future franchise quarterback whether he had any tattoos or piercings.
Richardson told the story while sitting alongside Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones during an appearance on the Charlie Rose show.
“I said, ‘Do you have any tattoos?’ He said, ‘No sir, I don’t have any.’ I said, ‘Do you have any piercings?’ He said, ‘No sir, I don’t have any.’ And I said, ‘We want to keep it that way.’ ”
Flagstar Inc., the restaurant business owned by Richardson, signed a minority-owned company as a major franchisee in November, allowing the group to open 47 restaurants in the New York area. The deal came a year after Flagstar’s 1993 fair share agreement with the NAACP.
That November agreement came just six months after Flagstar agreed to pay a $54.4 million settlement for discriminatory practices at Denny’s restaurants. Even with the agreement, Richardson denied any intentional discrimination against customers at his restaurants.
Also in 1994, an African-American general manager of a Hardee’s in Alabama sued Flagstar, claiming she was fired after speaking to Richardson about racism at the chain during a corporate event. The general manager claimed that a superior complained that her store “was filled with monkeys,” a reference to the black employees she hired.
Richardson agreed to a fair share agreement with the NAACP to increase the number of black owners, managers and employees at Denny’s. The agreement came after Flagstar, which owned Denny’s, was the target of numerous lawsuits alleging the mistreatment of black customers. Estimated benefits of the agreement: $1 billion.
One of those suits happened earlier in the year when six black Secret Service agents were denied service at a Maryland Denny’s as their white counterparts were served. The same day they were denied service, Denny’s was signing an agreement with the Justice Department banning discriminatory practices.
The fair share agreement came at a time when Richardson was trying to acquire an NFL team in Charlotte, North Carolina.
A group of 18 black students said they were asked to pay a cover charge as well as pay for their meals in advance after going to a Denny’s in San Jose, California, after a college event.
That same year, a black couple took their daughter to Denny’s for her birthday so she could receive a promotional complimentary meal. The couple alleged the manager of the Vallejo, California, restaurant began yelling at them after questioning the validity of the baptismal certificate that was presented as proof of their daughter’s birthday.