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Lebanon diner settles with state in racial discrimination case

  • The Fort @ Exit 18 in Lebanon, N.H., on Sept. 21, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Former line cook at The Fort @ Exit 18 in Lebanon, N.H., Juan Smart, of White River Junction, Vt. explains what happened to him while working at the restaurant during an interview in West Lebanon, N.H. on Sept. 12, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/18/2020 9:46:53 PM
Modified: 11/19/2020 11:30:09 AM

LEBANON — The Civil Rights Unit of the state Attorney General’s Office has reached a settlement with The Fort@Exit 18, the Lebanon truck stop diner charged in 2018 with employment discrimination and creating a hostile work environment.

Juan Smart, who was the lone Black employee at The Fort, alleged in his complaint that co-workers regularly used racial slurs and that a supervisor wrote a racist message on a whiteboard in the diner’s kitchen, where Smart worked as a line cook.

The message left for Smart read, “R U just f---ing stupid/ How many times have you been told & shown how to clean flat tops. F---ing start doing it right you dumb f---ing (N-word).” It had been erased before Smart arrived for work, but a co-worker took a picture with his phone and showed it to him. Smart brought it to the attention of Fort owner Bob Hazlett, and quit work at the diner.

“Management at The Fort was aware of the message and removed it before the Black employee could discover it, but did not discipline the employee who wrote the message,” the Attorney General’s Office wrote in a news release Wednesday. “Instead, management terminated the employee who had alerted the Black employee to the existence of the message.”

Reached Wednesday, Smart said he had little knowledge of what was in the state’s settlement with The Fort.

“I have no idea of what they did or didn’t do,” he said.

Smart reached a separate settlement with The Fort “several months ago,” his lawyer, Sheila Zakre, of Concord, said Wednesday.

“It was settled to the parties’ mutual satisfaction,” she said of the separate agreement, adding that it is bound by a nondisclosure clause.

Hazlett did not return messages left at the diner and at his Lebanon home on Wednesday.

Under the deal with the state, The Fort is required to:

■Update its sexual harassment and “other harassment” policies,

■Hold a yearly training about employee rights and obligations under the state’s Law Against Discrimination,

■Report to the Attorney General’s Office every six months any complaints made against the company and the resolution of those complaints.

The settlement and its requirements remain in force for three years.

“The Fort fully cooperated with the Civil Rights Unit’s investigation and denies any wrongdoing,” the news release says.

That means that the settlement contains no findings of whether the allegations were substantiated, Sean Locke, director of the Civil Rights Unit, said Wednesday.

The eight-page settlement, a copy of which Locke’s office provided with Smart’s name redacted, spells out when The Fort’s management must comply with the settlement’s terms.

It has 15 days to post the new, two-page policy The Fort must follow to prevent discrimination, harassment and retaliation, and 30 days to include the policy in the employee handbook, for example.

The first training, to be conducted by Jackson Lewis, an Albany, N.Y., law firm with offices in New Hampshire, has to happen within 90 days.

The Fort will have to follow the terms of the settlement, Locke said.

“Violation of the agreement is something that the Civil Rights Unit could act on,” he said.

Smart, who recently turned 49, moved back to southern Connecticut at the end of July and is looking for work.

“Now, I’m starting over again,” he said.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.

Correction

Sean Locke is the director of the Civil Rights Unit in the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect first name.




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