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Class Action Lawsuit Alleges Coca-Cola Discriminates for Management Jobs

A Hispanic Connecticut man claims in a proposed class action lawsuit that The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England, Inc. applies a preference for white employees over non-white employees for company management jobs. The 11-page lawsuit seeks monetary damages, as well as a court order directing the defendant to immediately cease and correct its alleged conduct.

What Does the Lawsuit Allege?

The case reportedly stems from when the defendant’s president, at a town hall meeting with employees, “admitted that its management ranks are mostly white because its customers are mostly white, and that it has therefore promoted mostly whites into management positions,” the suit claims.

The plaintiff, who the lawsuit says has worked for Coca-Cola since 1996, alleges that he and other non-white employees have been passed over for promotions into management roles due to the company’s “stated preference for white employees in those positions.”

“In addition to [the plaintiff] there have been many other non-white employees of [the defendant] over the years who have applied for but not received promotions to management positions,” the complaint alleges. “Instead, [the defendant] has systematically promoted white employees into management positions because of a stated preference to put white employees in those positions.”

The Plaintiff’s Alleged Experience at Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England

The plaintiff claims that he was hired as a warehouse worker by the defendant in Middletown, Connecticut in September 1996 and promised that the company “offered opportunities for promotion and growth.” After performing his job well and receiving pay raises over his first years, the plaintiff was reassigned to New London, Connecticut and promoted to the role of “Bulk – Account Manager,” a position in which he reported to “a white male who held the position of District Manager,” according to court documents.

From here the complaint details the plaintiff’s work record, in which he consistently received high and “outstanding” evaluations from superiors and even recommended to undergo management training. By 2014, with roughly 18 years of time put in with the company and a seemingly spotless work record, the plaintiff applied for an open district manager role for which he was more than qualified. The defendant allegedly gave the job to a white employee who “had far less experience than [the plaintiff] and was less qualified.”

The plaintiff claims that later in 2014 he applied for another open managerial position similar to the one he was turned down for months earlier. This job was also given to a white employee with less sales experience, an individual the complaint says “had recently resigned from [Coca-Cola] and had come back because his other job didn’t work out.”

Did the Defendant Ever Address the Alleged Discrimination?

The lawsuit says that the defendant’s president, Mark Francoeur, came to its Waterford, Connecticut location to conduct an employee town hall-style meeting, for which workers were notified ahead of time and told to prepare questions. The plaintiff, the lawsuit continues, anonymously submitted a question in writing that read:

“Is there a plan to add diversity to upper management? Currently there are no females, blacks, or Hispanics in any management positions. How do you motivate a 20+ year employee when they are constantly overlooked for management positions?”

In response to this question, as well as another pertaining to low employee morale and a lack of opportunities for employee advancement, Franceour allegedly said:

“In corporate, there are a few females and one black person, but the majority of our customers are white, so our company is basically white [run by whites].”

After the meeting, the plaintiff says he was approached by a white co-worker who allegedly commented on “why they gave the promotion to [another co-worker] over you . . . It’s a white run company.” Feeling embarrassed and humiliated by these remarks, the plaintiff contacted his supervisor and then sent a one-page letter to Franceour pertaining to his answer at the town hall meeting and complaining about the lack of diversity in management.

Franceour allegedly responded to the plaintiff via email denying that the defendant promoted more white men into management roles because of its purportedly white customer base. According to the lawsuit, more than 50 employees attended the town hall meeting.

Who Is Covered by the Lawsuit’s Proposed Class?

The proposed class covers all current and former non-white employees of the defendant employed below the level of District Manager (including, but not limited to, Salesmen, Account Managers, Merchandisers, Warehouse Shift Leaders, Warehouse Pickers and others) who have been refused promotions pursuant to The Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England’s alleged “preference and policy to promote white employees into management positions.” 

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