The 'O' sued for racial discrimination

Though it left the campus this spring, the Original Hot Dog Shop Inc. is facing a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination at its Carnegie Mellon location.

In a suit filed September 19, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) stated that the parent company of the Original Hot Dog Shop, or “the ‘O,’ ” violated federal law when it fired black employees because of their race.

The commission filed the suit in federal court in Pittsburgh under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Title I of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which guard against unlawful employment practices on the basis of race.

According to the document, Bruce Simon, general manager of the ‘O’ ’s Carnegie Mellon location, ordered a store manager to fire Anton Rumph and other African-American employees there.

“Let the truth come out,” Simon said. “That’s all I want is the truth.” He made no further comments regarding the charges.

The suit alleges that last September, Simon commanded a newly-employed store manager to discharge all African-American employees.

“This manager indicated that he was told by Mr. Simon to fire the black employees because CMU students did not like to be waited on by black employees,” the suit states.

It also notes that Simon claimed to have fired the employees because of customer complaints, poor performance, and improper training.

“However, these claims are not worthy of belief and are pretextual for race discrimination,” the suit states.

Tim Michael, head of Housing and Dining Services, noted that Carnegie Mellon is not a direct participant. The ‘O’ was a third-party vendor, which did not enter into a contract directly with the University.

Rather, Parkhurst Food Services, a company the University hires, draws up contracts with food vendors and acts as a liaison to the University.

“What was really happening last fall was a series of complaints about service,” Michael said. “Students were complaining about long lines and slow service.”

Michael also noted that Housing and Dining never intervenes with how third-party restaurants run their business, though they do make managers aware when there have been complaints.

“We had no complaints about service at the ‘O’ based on the race of the employees,” he said.

The ‘O,’ which is known for its burgers and fries, closed on Carnegie Mellon’s campus this spring after it did not reach contractual agreements with Parkhurst. Sí Señor took its location in the University Center.

Jane Fahringer, the head of Parkhurst during the alleged incident, was unable to be reached for comment.

Parkhurst controls contracts with all campus dining vendors, except four. Gullifty’s in Squirrel Hill owns the Underground, Skibo Café, Andy’s, and the Zebra Lounge, and the manager reports directly to the University.

The ‘O’ currently owns two other restaurants, one on Forbes Avenue in Oakland, which is up for sale, and one in Plum borough.

An African-American worker at the restaurant’s Oakland location, who wished to remain anonymous, found no basis in the suit’s claims and said the workers were “fired because they [weren’t] doing their jobs.”

The worker also noted that the current manager of the ‘O’ in Oakland is African-American.

The commission is seeking to have a jury trial, to have the company compensate the employees for monetary losses, and to be granted unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. As of publication, a trial date had not been set.

“With the diversity of this campus, I think our campus community is a very open and accepting place, so I’m surprised by the whole thing,” Michael said. “Even the allegation surprises me — it’s just not what our campus is about.”