A restaurant in Menomonie, Wis., is being sued by the federal government because its managers posted images of a noose, a Klan hood and other racist depictions that prompted a black employee to complain and then be fired.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit, filed Tuesday against the owners of Sparx Restaurant & Bar, alleges that Dion Miller was fired in retaliation for complaining about the racist atmosphere that the images conveyed.

A manager at Sparx said Wednesday that no one was available to comment.

According to the suit:

Miller arrived for a regular shift and found taped to the cooler a picture of black actor Gary Coleman and a dollar bill that was defaced with a noose around the neck of a black-faced George Washington. Also on the dollar bill were swastikas and the image of a man in a Ku Klux Klan hood.

Sparx's managers told Miller that they had posted the images the evening before and insisted that it was just "a joke."

Miller was fired within weeks of complaining for allegedly having "a bad attitude."

The suit was filed after an attempt at a settlement with the restaurant's owner, Northern Star Hospitality Inc., failed.

Among other things, the EEOC is seeking back pay, job reinstatement, compensatory and punitive damages for Miller.

"Sparx bills itself as a 'family restaurant' even as its managers posted imagery which evokes shameful memories of racially motivated physical attacks and lynchings," John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the Chicago district of the EEOC, said in a statement Wednesday announcing the lawsuit.

"Sparx then made a bad situation worse by firing the man who had the guts to stand up to it," Hendrickson added. "The EEOC will stand up for people like Dion Miller."

Menomonie is about 70 miles east of the Twin Cities.

Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482