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Culver's Wouldn't Let Franchisee Open On The South Side: Lawsuit

By Kate Shepherd in News on Oct 2, 2015 9:35PM

Popular Wisconsin-based fast food chain Culver's is being sued for discrimination by a former franchisee.

Michael Wilbern claims that Culver's wouldn't let him open a location on the South Side of Chicago. A judge is allowing the lawsuit to proceed, according to Nation's Restaurant News.

"Unfortunately, Chicago has very segregated housing patterns, and we have all these communities that are job deserts and food deserts," Wilbern's attorney, Carmen Caruso said according to NRN. "Michael Wilbern tried to change that, but couldn't because of the things we allege in the lawsuit."

Wilbern, who managed a dozen KFC restaurants and a Taco Bell in Milwaukee, allegedly tried to open a Culver's in predominantly black neighborhoods on the South Side several times between 2003 and 2012. He says Culver's wouldn't allow him to open the locations, even though local Chicago officials offered him tax incentives.

Culver's always steered him in the direction of opening a location in the western suburbs where he eventually opened one in the mostly white suburb of Franklin Park, according to Wilbern. He no longer owns the location.

Culver Franchising System Inc. denies the allegations and says the fact that the judge is allowing the lawsuit to proceed does not mean they are guilty.

"CFSI embraces diversity in race, religion, age and sexual orientation as it relates to team members, franchisees, suppliers and our valued guests," the company said in a statement. "CFSI looks forward to responding to these charges in court and feels confident it will be exonerated."

The city's first Culver's is set to open next year in the Wrigleyville neighborhood at 3500 N. Clark St. There are also plans for one in Portage Park.