Nationwide — Sherrance Henderson, a single African American mom of two autistic children, has filed a lawsuit for racial discrimination against Golden Corral, one of the largest buffet restaurant chains in the country. In 2017, her company, Cornucopia Queen, Inc., bought, built and opened a Golden Corral franchise in Poughkeepsie, New York, but she says that her license was unlawfully terminated after just 52 days in business.
Just recently, in March 2023, Judge Nelson Ramon of the White Plains Southern District Federal Court granted her company an order to proceed against the franchisor for discrimination and punitive damages.
Ms. Henderson first brought her case before the Southern District White Plains Federal Court House in 2018, claiming her business was discriminated against by Golden Corral Franchise Systems. The original filing of her complaint was for more than $265 million.
Ms. Henderson says that she invested her life savings of more than $3 million dollars and four years of her life to open a Golden Corral franchise in Poughkeepsie, New York. The franchisor, Golden Corral Franchise Systems of Raleigh Durham, North Carolina, terminated her license after just 52 days in business with no opportunity to cure her defaults. The inspector and regional manager of Golden Corral Franchise Systems noted in his report that he found three cigarette butts in an ashtray outside the business, a few pieces of debris in the parking lot, workers without sanitary hats and temperatures a few degrees lower or higher that standard in the buffet trays.
In an article published by the Poughkeepsie Journal, Golden Corral stated that Ms. Henderson’s location store was devaluing their brand, hence the termination of her license. However, Cornucopia Queen, Inc. had no Department of Health violations or fines from the City of Poughkeepsie.
From the onset of her relationship with Golden Corral Franchise Systems, Ms. Henderson says she received contentious treatment. She was the only Black American female franchisee at the time out of more than 350 Golden Corral franchise buffet locations, which her team alleges played a significant role in the sudden closure of her business. Cornucopia Queen, Inc. experienced growing pains similar to other new Golden Corral restaurants, yet her corporation was not given the same consideration as male and non-black female franchise owners. For example, a different Golden Corral franchise owner, notably a white male, was given ample opportunities to make corrections to reopen his restaurant after the Department of Health closed the store down. Similarly, a non-Black female owner with similar growing was given over 200 days to make corrections, while Cornucopia Queen, Inc., was given zero days. Cornucopia Queen, Inc. and her legal team allege that race, gender, and her disability all played a factor.
With Ms. Henderson’s life savings tied up in the franchise and no ability to earn revenue from the investment, the SBA-approved lender foreclosed on her home and the brick and mortar of her Golden Corral franchise in Poughkeepsie, New York. Ms. Henderson, once multi-millionaire, was forced to resort to food stamps and other state and federal resources to survive. Ms. Henderson is also disabled and a single parent with no support from the fathers of her children.
She says that these discriminatory practices first began in 2013, when she first signed a 15-year franchise contract with Golden Corral. The franchisor allegedly would not allow her to move forward with a territory unless she brought in partners, ideally men. After complying with the demand, she worked with the City of Newark, New Jersey to purchase a license for her franchisee, where her business would benefit from considerable tax revenue breaks. However, she says that Golden Corral Franchise Systems “red-lined” the whole city and refused to honor the license agreement of her ownership. As a result, Cornucopia Queen, Inc. was strong-armed into accepting the Poughkeepsie location – one she did not purchase — and do business in a community where she had no relationships, no financial network, and no family ties.
Ms. Henderson reluctantly built the undesirable location from raw land to avoid losing her initial investment, and in January of 2017, the franchise was opened for business. In March 2017, Golden Corral terminated the franchise license of Cornucopia Queen, Inc.
With approval from Judge Nelson Ramon to pursue punitive damage opportunities, Ms. Henderson will be able to bring her case before a jury to finally receive financial justice. Her company, Cornucopia Queen Inc., is being represented by Attorney Angel A. Bermudez of Bermudez Law Firm based in Miami, Florida.
Sherrance Henderson launched Cornucopia Queen Inc in 2015 to formalize her entrepreneurial pursuits during the development and launch of her franchise with Golden Corral Franchise Systems. Henderson is an author of over seven fiction and nonfiction books. She is an alum of Howard University and Johns Hopkins University Carey Business School, and now resides in Newark, New Jersey with her two children who both have autism, and her mother who suffers from dementia. Though Henderson herself is physically disabled, she has continually sought opportunities to become a business owner to support her family. Henderson, the CEO of Cornucopia Queen Inc., is the plaintiff in the ongoing discrimination case Henderson v. Golden Corral Franchise Systems her corporation seeks justice for the loss of her life savings and the unjust closure of her franchise.
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