CINCINNATI (AP) _ Civil rights groups affiliated with the Rev. Jesse Jackson began ``Operation Meltdown'' on Wednesday, a boycott of United Dairy Farmers convenience stores over claims of racial discrimination.

The Cincinnati-based company, with 207 outlets in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, is known for its ice cream products.

The boycott stems from the treatment of two black employees at a UDF store in Columbus, Ohio _ Maudie Williams and her son, Michael _ who allege that they were fired after two company officials told managers not to hire ``any more (expletive) niggers.''

UDF says the two were fired for violating the chain's cash handling procedures.

Members of the Columbus chapter of the Rainbow/Push Coalition and the Interracial Leadership Council announced the boycott Wednesday at news conferences in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus.

Jackson, who was in New York to announce a settlement of a boycott against Mitsubishi automobile dealers for sexual harassment, said he supported the UDF boycott. Jackson met last month with company officials and members of the civil rights groups to discuss the allegations.

``UDF management has downplayed, dismissed or ignored these claims and continues to believe that it can hide behind a `business-as-usual' mentality,'' said The Rev. C. Dexter Wise, president of the Columbus chapter of the Rainbow/Push Coalition.

But UDF President Robert Lindner Jr. claimed the boycott was not justified, stating that UDF not only tries to recruit minority employees but also has pledged to improve existing anti-discrimination policies.

``One of the principle reasons for this boycott is that the company is not willing to settle two racial discrimination lawsuits _ seeking $17 million in damages _ filed by two employees who were dismissed from their jobs because they repeatedly failed to follow company cash handling procedures,'' Lindner said.

``The decision to call for a boycott is regrettable but it does not change our belief that the legal process the former employees initiated should be followed,'' he said.

UDF said nearly 19 percent of its 3,000 employees is black. The company said it has employed more than 17,000 people over the past four years and has had 10 claims of racial discrimination, but no court has ruled that UDF discriminated.