Tempest In A Cracker Barrel

Some three years after touching off a fracas over its employment policies toward gays, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is still battling. In 1991, the Lebanon (Tenn.) restaurant chain fired 11 workers it accused of homosexuality, saying the employees' sexual orientation didn't fit with Cracker Barrel's stance on family values. But then a $24 billion public pension fund, the New York City Employees Retirement System, which holds 1% of Cracker Barrel's stock, pushed to get an anti-discrimination question on the proxy ballot, even though the company has since rescinded its public opposition to hiring gays. The company resisted the fund's move and the Securities & Exchange Commission sided with Cracker Barrel, saying it could reject NYCERS' demand because the question wasn't related to ordinary company business.

U.S. District Court Judge Kimba Wood, in Manhattan, ordered the SEC to back off, and the question was placed on the ballot for the Nov.22 annual meeting. While the proposal lost, it did garner 15.6% of the vote--enough, under SEC rules, for the question to get on the 1994 ballot. The SEC is considering an appeal of the Wood ruling, and NYCERS vows to keep fighting. Cracker Barrel had no comment.

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