updated 5/3/2004 11:32:23 AM ET 2004-05-03T15:32:23

Cracker Barrel restaurants will expand sensitivity training for employees as part of an agreement to settle a government investigation of customers’ racial discrimination claims, the company and Justice Department announced Monday.

In the consent decree, Cracker Barrel did not admit any wrongdoing and will pay no fines or penalties, spokeswoman Julie Davis said.

“This moves us forward in a direction we were already going,” Davis said. “It allows both sides to avoid protracted and costly litigation.”

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., based in Lebanon, Tenn., has been the target of several lawsuits filed by black customers who say they received poor service compared with white patrons. Their claims include exceedingly long waits for tables and being segregated in restaurants.

The agreement has no direct effect on those lawsuits, Davis said. But it does require the chain’s employees to undergo expanded racial diversity training and improves procedures to investigate patrons’ complaints.

The company also will hire an outside firm that will send undercover customers into restaurants to check on Cracker Barrel employees.

“We do not tolerate any form of discrimination,” said Donald Turner, Cracker Barrel president and chief operating officer. “It is, and always has been, a violation of our policies and procedures and is neither condoned nor allowed.”

Cracker Barrel operates 497 restaurants in 41 states. It had had $1.9 billion in sales last year.

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