updated 10/2/2006 4:23:40 PM ET 2006-10-02T20:23:40

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Monday that it has filed employment discrimination suits against the Atlanta Bread Co. restaurant chain, BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. and auto parts retailer AutoZone Inc.

In separate lawsuits filed Thursday in federal court here, the EEOC claimed that Natick, Mass.-based BJ’s and Sandy Springs, Ga.-based Atlanta Bread allowed racial discrimination of black and Hispanic employees. The complaint against Memphis, Tenn.-based AutoZone, filed Monday, accuses the company of permitting sexual harassment of several female workers.

The EEOC also filed suit against ARO Enterprises, which owns the Atlanta Bread store in Pembroke Pines, about 20 miles north of downtown Miami.

In each of the cases, the EEOC said it tried first to settle with the companies. The EEOC is asking a judge to prevent future acts of discrimination and order the companies to pay back wages and damages.

Autozone spokesman Ray Pohlman said the company does not generally discuss ongoing litigation, but he said, “we are confident that AutoZone’s employment practices and policies will be upheld in court.”

BJ’s released a statement saying it could not address the specifics of the lawsuit but that the company “takes any allegation of discrimination very seriously and does not tolerate discriminatory behavior of any kind.” The statement said BJ’s would work with the EEOC to resolve the matter.

A message left Monday by The Associated Press with Atlanta Bread Co. was not immediately returned.

According to the EEOC, between June 2005 and Sept. 2005, the Atlanta Bread Co. and ARO Enterprises, also known as Acra Enterprises, fired black employees and segregated them by race at the South Florida restaurant.

“It is shocking in the 21st century to see a work force segregated by race and the systematic termination of virtually all black employees,” said the commission’s regional attorney Delner Franklin-Thomas in a statement. “All these workers wanted was an opportunity to provide for themselves and their families; they were denied that because of the color of their skin.”

In the BJ’s case, managers at the company’s Homestead store in south Florida allegedly harassed Hispanic and black employees with slurs and other derogatory comments.

In the Autozone case, the manager of the Starke AutoZone store in north Florida allegedly made repeated unwelcome sexual advances and offensive comments to female employees between October and December of 2005. The women complained to the manager but said no action was taken until one of the victims was fired in January 2006.

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