National Rifle Association Whitewashes Racial Discrimination Suit Against Corporate Partner

National Rifle Association President David Keene is covering up allegations of racial discrimination in order to protect one of its corporate partners and attack the Obama administration. 

In his March 27 Washington Times column, Keene claimed that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Bass Pro Shops because  “the company won't hire convicted felons”  to sell guns,  “which the commission claims amounts to illegal racial discrimination.” In fact, the EEOC sued Bass Pro Shops in 2011 and 2012 after receiving reports alleging racially discriminatory hiring practices, including an alleged directive from Bass Pro Shops owner John Morris to not hire minorities.

Keene also did not disclose that the NRA has a financial relationship with Bass Pro Shops, which includes a collaborative effort to open a 10,000-square foot firearms museum at Bass Pro Shops headquarters.

The initial lawsuit, filed in federal court on September 21, 2011, alleged that Bass Pro Shops was “engaging in a pattern or practice of unlawfully failing to hire Black and Hispanic applicants for positions in its retail stores nationwide” and was “unlawfully retaliating against a class of employees who opposed actions by [Bass Pro Shops].” The suit also alleged that Bass Pro Shops had “unlawfully destroyed records relevant to whether unlawful employment practices have been or are being committed.”

The suit describes multiple instances of racial discrimination in its allegations against Bass Pro Shops that occurred in stores located in Louisiana, Texas and Indiana.

According to the EEOC's complaint, an assistant general manager at a Louisiana store told a human resources manager that “we don't hire n*****s” as explanation for why a qualified African-American candidate was not hired. The manager of a Houston area store was alleged to have told the human resources manager that “it was getting a little dark in here you need to hire some white people.” Similar discriminatory hiring practices were alleged at an Indiana store where a supervisor was observed throwing away job applications submitted by individuals who he thought had a “n***** name” :

Several times in late 2008, a department “Lead” in a Bass Pro store in Indiana was seen discarding employment applications after he decided that the name on the application “sounded like a 'n***** name.'” This Lead employee opined that “n*****s steal and did not make good employees.”

The EECO also alleged discrimination against Latinos in a Houston area and Indiana store. According to the complaint:

[T]he General Manager of a store in the greater Houston area would, on a daily basis, use the words “wetback,” “Pedro,” and “Mexican” to refer to people of Hispanic origin. At a store in Indiana, a Lead employee who screened applications stated that “Hispanics should be shot at the border by the border patrol.”

In July 2012, EEOC refilled suit against Bass Pro Shops with additional allegations of racial discrimination. In its complaint, EEOC alleged that Bass Pro Shops owner and founder John Morris said in a meeting of store general managers that, “this company will never have a quota system because that's not the kind of people I want working in my stores,” and made similar comments at store openings. According to the EEOC, “Defendants' hiring preference for Whites was known and followed by store managers throughout the company and was sometimes referred to simply as 'the Profile.' Only White applicants fit the Profile.”

The suit also states that, “Human Resources Managers from Bass Pro stores in three different states acknowledged Morris's directive that applicants be hired based on their 'physical characteristics,' a coded reference to discrimination against minorities on the basis of race, national origin, and other impermissible factors.”

To support these claims, the suit lists specific examples of racial discrimination in hiring and other store policies that are alleged to have occurred in Louisiana, Iowa, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, Oklahoma, Indiana, Alabama, and Georgia. 

These allegations included an admission by a store manager that he was following Morris' alleged directive to not hire African-Americans:

81. Ed Billingsley, the Store General Manager in Bossier City, Louisiana, from about 2004 to 2008, instructed a customer service manager not to hire any more Black employees.

82. Billingsley admitted that he was following Morris's hiring directive of favoring White applicants over minority applicants, in defending his discriminatory practices.

On March 18, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas allowed the lawsuit to go forward, noting that, “The EEOC has worked diligently to list almost 200 potential claimants who ... are black and Hispanic applicants who have been denied employment by defendants.”

In his Washington Times column, Keene also failed to disclose that Bass Pro Shops and the NRA have a substantial financial relationship that includes collaboration on membership drives and the opening of an NRA firearms museum at Bass Pro Shops headquarters in Springfield, Missouri.

According to an October 2012 NRA blog post, “The new NRA Museum at Bass Pro Shops headquarters will feature more than 10,000 square feet of America's most significant sporting arms treasures amid the over 400,000 square foot store - Missouri's #1 tourist attraction.”

In July 2012, Bass Pro Shops promoted the opening of the museum by placing NRA promotional materials on its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racecar. According to a NRA Hunters Rights article, NRA board member Richard Childress fielded the car's entry into the Dillon's Nationwide Series.

Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops who was alleged by the EEOC to have told his subordinates to not hire minorities, told NRA Hunters Rights, “This was an excellent opportunity for us to announce the NRA Museum being at our flag ship store in Springfield.”

The NRA and Bass Pro Shops also recently collaborated on a NRA membership drive where individuals who purchased a $25 one-year NRA membership received a $25 Bass Pro Shops gift card. Bass Pro Shops is an NRA retailer that currently sells NRA-brand targets and shooting glasses.  

[Think Progress, accessed 3/28/13]

Bass Pro Shops has also been involved in the NRA's lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. A 2006 press release issued by the NRA-ILA commended Bass Pro Shops for taking “fast and decisive action,” when it was discovered that the anti-hunting Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals held an event at a Bass Pro Shops store. According to the release, “BASS has informed all of their store managers that anti-hunting groups, including their local affiliates, will not be allowed to participate in store activities or operate at store locations.” The release also lauded Bass Pro Shops as “a strong partner in the fight to protect our hunting heritage.”

The NRA-ILA itself has conducted events at Bass Pro Shop stores, including a “Grassroots Workshop[]” to promote proposed legislation to make it easier to carry a gun in public.