Kalandra Wheeler
Texas Employment Lawyer Kalandra Wheeler

Sometimes I see random things and go down a rabbit hole. So, I decided to have a Tea Party, invite you along, and share my findings this time. I ran across a newspaper article about Piggly Wiggly, which lead me here. If you are from the south, then you know that Piggly Wiggly is a well-known supermarket chain founded by Clarence Saunders in 1916 in Memphis, Tennessee. I expect that the name Piggly Wiggly is familiar even beyond the south. Saunders introduced the concept of the modern grocery store with the first self-service grocery store model. The store was organized by departments, there was transparency with price marking, and customers could browse the store freely and pick their items from shelves rather than having a clerk fetch items for them. This innovation revolutionized the retail grocery business. 

Piggly Wiggly was very successful, paving the way for the supermarket model we see today, as other independent grocery stores and chains began to follow its model. The Dallas Morning News reports that by 1932, at its peak, Piggly Wiggly operated 2,660 stores. Over the years, Piggly Wiggly stores have evolved. Some are owned by individual franchisees, while others are part of larger corporate entities. Yet, it is not what it was in 1932. Now, despite being found in 18 states, Piggly Wiggly has significantly fewer locations, with approximately 500 stores. In Texas, there are two, one in Athens and the other in Paris.

Despite being a model for other retailers to follow, Piggly Wiggly has not always been a model to follow. The rabbit hole led me to 1987 when a class action racial discrimination suit was filed against Dixieland Food Stores, which encompassed 48 Piggly Wiggly stores in four states: Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. This lawsuit resulted in a settlement of $9 million and was a pivotal legal battle addressing allegations of racial bias in employment practices within these stores. The settlement was to represent back pay and damages to be paid to about 1,000 African American employees, including those “who are or have been employed by, or who have sought to be employed by D.L. Food Stores at any time from Aug. 7, 1981, through May 20, 1990[.]” (See L.A. Time Archives, Apr. 26, 1993, “Piggly Wiggly Grocery Store Chain Settles Four-State Racial Bias Suit for $9 Million.”)

In addition to financial compensation for the victims of Piggly Wiggly’s discriminatory practices, the settlement, which received approval from U.S. District Judge Harold Albritton of Montgomery, Alabama on March 20, 1992, mandated a significant restructuring of the company’s hiring practices. It included a stringent order requiring the company to ensure that 30% to 33% of its management positions were filled by African American individuals within the following five years. This was necessary when testimony revealed that African American employees were not provided the same advancement opportunities.  There was testimony that there was company policy that limited hiring opportunities for African Americans. A top management employee had been quoted making racially derogatory statements at management meetings such as: “(1) he would not hire another black until the government made him; (2) the store manager[s] should not hire blacks to handle money; and (3) the store manager[s] should not hire black cashiers because they steal. Mr. Neal also testified that Lee’s evaluation of the cause of inventory losses at the Marianna, Florida, store was that blacks were causing the white employees to steal.” (See Wynn v. Dixieland Food Stores, Inc., 125 F.R.D. 696 (M.D. Ala. 1989).

While the settlement’s financial compensation was substantial, the underlying emphasis on the imperative of diversity, inclusion, and fair employment practices resonated far beyond the monetary value. It marked a notable moment in the ongoing struggle for workplace equality, reminding corporations of the necessity to create environments that welcome and support individuals from all racial backgrounds.

What happened at these Piggly Wiggly stores in the 80s and before, is not unheard of today. Race discrimination in hiring, firing, and promotions, is a common and real occurrence.  If you or someone you know is facing race discrimination, we have employment attorneys available for consultation. 

Going down the rabbit hole can lead to interesting facts. This moment in history began with my reading an article predicting a comeback for the grocery retailer in the state of Texas. C&S Wholesale Grocers, the owner of the Piggly Wiggly brand, struck a deal to acquire more than 400 Kroger and Albertsons stores across the country. However, this acquisition is contingent upon the Federal Trade Commission’s approval of the pending $24.6 billion merger between Kroger and Albertsons. Of those 400 stores, 26 are reportedly in Texas. Will they be branded Piggly Wiggly? I don’t know. I really do not care. I am loyal to my current grocery chain, but it was fun looking at a little piece of history.

Email this postTweet this postLike this postShare this post on LinkedIn
Photo of Kalandra N. Wheeler Kalandra N. Wheeler

We asked Kalandra N. Wheeler, a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C., to provide her sincere answers to a range of questions.  After reading, you will be more more abreast with the understanding and competency that Ms. Wheeler

We asked Kalandra N. Wheeler, a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C., to provide her sincere answers to a range of questions.  After reading, you will be more more abreast with the understanding and competency that Ms. Wheeler brings.

1.Why did you start practicing labor and employment law?

I wanted to be able to help people that otherwise might not find help. Labor and employment laws affect most of society.  And – whether our results help one or many – our work and efforts as employment lawyers touch people in a real way in their every day lives.

2. Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice?

Thurgood Marshall.

3. What do you think is the most important part of a good case?

The client. Good facts and evidence are definitely important. But good clients are a lawyers’ most valuable asset.  A good client: (1) is invested in their case; (2) works or worked hard for their employer; (3) can tell their story clearly and concisely; and (4) is someone that a jury will find sympathetic and relatable.

4. If you could write a new law, what would it do?

The Texas Workplace Anti-Bullying law.  I hear the stories, the ones told by employees looking for help. And in far too many of those stories the law offers no solution.  Every employee that goes to work and works hard to do the job they are hired to perform should be able to do so without abuse, harassment, and bullying. There is no justification for bullying, not in our schools, and not in our workplaces.

5. Besides Rob Wiley, P.C., what is the most interesting job that you have had?

For a year before law school, I worked as a lube tech for Jiffy Lube.  I spent hot summer days, working on hot cars, changing oil or flushing transmissions or radiators.  I never had a customer come back with a complaint.

6. How do you market yourself differently than others?

I tell clients what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. Before a client begins down any path toward resolving an employment dispute, they need thoughtful, honest advice. I am a believer in justice and everyday people deserve competent representation in an arena that is difficult for non-lawyers to navigate.

7. What do you do when you’re not practicing law?

I spend time with family and friends.  I read true crime books.  I sew and draw.

8. How would you describe the color yellow to someone who could not see?

It’s not the intense heat of the sun during the month of August, but instead the softness of the sun on your skin just as the seasons change from Summer to Fall.  It’s warm. And soft to the touch.  It’s fresh squeezed lemonade with a hint of sugar.  Slightly cool, inviting, and happy.

9. What’s your favorite legal TV show?

Law & Order: SVU

10. If you could argue any case in history, what would it be?

The Karen Silkwood case. But really, I think that would be more about arguing and trying a case alongside Gerry Spence for the learning experience.

Kalandra N. Wheeler is a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C.  She graduated from The University of Houston with a bachelor’s degree in political science.  Ms. Wheeler went on and received her law degree from The University of Arkansas.