A federal judge has denied burger and frozen custard chain Culver’s motion to throw out a case brought by a franchisee, holding that there is sufficient evidence of intentional discrimination that the case should proceed to trial. Michael Wilbern, one of Culver’s first African-American franchisees, alleges in the lawsuit that the chain stopped him from opening stores in majority African-American neighborhoods and impeded his ability to operate the store Culver’s did let him open in a mostly white suburb.
Wilbern contends that from 2003 to 2012 he repeatedly tried to open a Culver’s on Chicago’s predominantly black South Side. Wilbern charges Culver’s “denied those locations every time” even though local officials offered him tax breaks to open there. Instead, Wilbern claims, Culver’s steered him to a site in suburban Franklin Park.
Wilbern charges that the “overwhelming majority” of Culver’s restaurants are located in areas where African Americans are in the minority.
The Chicago Tribune explains:
Wilbern, who previously managed a dozen KFC restaurants in Wisconsin, went along with that offer because he wanted to build a relationship with Culver’s, the suit says. But the location failed because he was encouraged by Culver’s to pay higher than market-rate rent for a lease on the restaurant, he says.
Culver’s also allowed two other franchisees to “cannibalize” Wilbern’s sales by opening Culver’s restaurants in [nearby] Rosemont and Lyons, and refusing him permission to increase prices to cover the lease, contrary to its usual practice. One of the franchisees — a white man — took over the Franklin Park restaurant when Wilbern was forced into bankruptcy, the suit says.