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Pittsburgh Panera Bread franchise owner to proceed with discrimation settlement

| Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, 12:52 p.m.

A federal judge on Monday told lawyers for both sides to move ahead with advertising a proposed settlement in a class-action lawsuit claiming that Pittsburgh-area Panera Bread franchises discriminated against black employees.

Covelli Enterprises of Warren, Ohio, operates franchises in Pittsburgh as well as in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Florida.

Guy M. Vines, a Castle Shannon man who filed the lawsuit, claims the company refused to promote him and other black employees and tried to relegate them to kitchen work because the company owner, Sam Covelli, didn't like minorities working in the dining areas of his restaurants.

Sam Cordes, Vines' attorney, told U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster that the number of people affected by the settlement is about 200 to 300 current and former employees. The company will advertise the settlement in newspapers in all five states to reach the former employees, he said.

The company denies any liability in the settlement, but has agreed to pay current and former black employees the difference in wages they would have made if they had been promoted after their first full year of employment. That amounts to 70 cents an hour for every hour they worked after the first year, Cordes said.

The company will pay Vines $10,000 as the class representative who brought the lawsuit and Cordes about $66,000 in legal fees, according to the settlement. A condition of the settlement is that neither side will talk with the media, and Cordes and Brad Funari, the company's lawyer, declined to comment after the hearing.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com

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