Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Is Coke rethinking woke? Soft drink giant puts 'pause' on diversity plan requiring outside law firms 'meet racial quotas or have their legal fees reduced'

 Coca-Cola appears to be putting a ‘pause’ on its plan to transition to ‘woke-a-Cola.’

The soft drink giant announced last week that it was suspending its ‘diversity initiative’ after the firm replaced its top lawyer after just eight months on the job.

Bradley Gayton abruptly resigned last week as the company’s general counsel just months after he introduced ‘aggressive’ diversity initiatives that included requiring the firm’s outside lawyers to meet diversity quotas.

In January, Gayton announced that The Coca-Cola Company would adhere to ‘revised outside counsel diversity guidelines.’

According to the plan, any law firm seeking to do business with the company was required to ‘providing KO (the contracting officer) with self-identified diversity data (including American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black, Women, Hispanic/Latinx, LGBTQ+, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and Persons with Disabilities) for KO’s quarterly analysis of the diversity of teams working on KO matters.’

The Coca-Cola Company announced last week that it was putting on hold a 'diversity plan' requiring outside law firms to meet racial quotas if it hoped to work with the Atlanta-based soft drink giant. Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey is seen above in June 2019

The Coca-Cola Company announced last week that it was putting on hold a 'diversity plan' requiring outside law firms to meet racial quotas if it hoped to work with the Atlanta-based soft drink giant. Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey is seen above in June 2019

Bradley Gayton abruptly resigned last week as the company’s general counsel just months after he introduced ‘aggressive’ diversity initiatives that included requiring the firm’s outside lawyers to meet diversity quotas
After Gayton’s departure, he was replaced by Monica Howard Douglas, who told staffers last week that the diversity initiative was on ‘pause.’

Bradley Gayton (left) abruptly resigned last week as the company’s general counsel just months after he introduced ‘aggressive’ diversity initiatives that included requiring the firm’s outside lawyers to meet diversity quotas. After Gayton’s departure, he was replaced by Monica Howard Douglas (right), who told staffers last week that the diversity initiative was on ‘pause.’ 

The 'diversity plan' also includes 'bill timed commitments' that require law firms to commit 'that at least 30% of each of billed associate and partner time will be from diverse attorneys, and of such amounts at least half will be from Black attorneys.' 

Law firms that fail to comply will see their legal fees reduced or have their lawyers cut off completely from any future work with Coca-Cola, according to the guidelines.


'As a function, we believe that pursuing diversity is not only the right thing to do, but it’s a business imperative to do so quickly. We know firsthand that a diversity of thought, perspective and experience is critical to drive the best work and outcomes for our Company,' Gayton wrote on the company website.

But his sudden resignation last week has thrown the plan into doubt.

‘He’s a diversity champion. He wanted diversity. He wanted to make sure we hired enough black outside counsel,’ a company source told Law.com.

‘That was his big focus. But we could have focused on that in a year.

‘What we needed to do was stand up the organization now. That’s what he was hired for.’

Gayton was hired by Atlanta-based Coca-Cola in September 2020. He came over to the company after spending nearly 30 years working as chief lawyer for The Ford Motor Co.

He signed a contract whereby the company agreed to pay him $12million over the next year. That included a $4million sign-on fee and a monthly consulting fee of $666,666.

Gayton will now serve as strategic consultant to the CEO, James Quincey.

After Gayton’s departure, he was replaced by Monica Howard Douglas, who told staffers last week that the diversity initiative was on ‘pause.’

Douglas said that the diversity initiative was being evaluated and that it was likely the company would keep parts of it.

‘She said she … plans to use some of it, but everything is being evaluated,’ a source told Law.com.

‘They plan to adopt some of his strategies and passions. Everything was, “More to come”.’

Coca-Cola has been criticized by Republicans for taking positions on social justice issues. The image above shows a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Los Angeles on April 25

Coca-Cola has been criticized by Republicans for taking positions on social justice issues. The image above shows a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Los Angeles on April 25

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Coca-Cola has been criticized by Republicans for embracing Democratic Party-aligned positions on hot-button political matters.

Last month, eight GOP members of Georgia's House of Representatives wrote to Coca-Cola and told the company that they no longer wanted free Coke products for their offices after the company sided with Democrats in criticizing the state's controversial election reform law.

Coca-Cola currently distributes products to legislative offices for free. 

Republicans have complained that the uproar over the Georgia law is disingenuous, because aspects of it actually create more opportunities for voting. 

'Should Coke choose to read the bill, share its true intentions and accept their role in the dissemination of mistruths, we would welcome a conversation about to rebuild a working relationship,' the Georgia GOP lawmakers wrote in their letter. 

Democrats in Congress, Biden and even some corporations have pushed back on the Georgia law, which would give the legislature more influence over a state election board, reduce the time period for people to request absentee ballots and add an identification requirement for those who want to cast those ballots. 

Although the new law makes ballot drop boxes a permanent option for voters, it limits the number each county can have and will result in fewer drop boxes in the state’s most populous communities. 

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola came under fire for uploading a resource video encouraging employees to 'be less white'. Slides from the 'inclusive workplace' video went viral on social media after they were shared by a 'whistleblower' working for the soft drink giant

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola came under fire for uploading a resource video encouraging employees to 'be less white'. Slides from the 'inclusive workplace' video went viral on social media after they were shared by a 'whistleblower' working for the soft drink giant

The slides appear to come from an 11-minute video titled 'Confronting Racism with Robin DiAngelo'. One slide claims that whiteness is associated with arrogance, defensiveness, ignorance and a lack of humility

The slides appear to come from an 11-minute video titled 'Confronting Racism with Robin DiAngelo'. One slide claims that whiteness is associated with arrogance, defensiveness, ignorance and a lack of humility

The Coca-Cola logo can be seen in the top right of the screenshot. The company has confirmed that it uploaded the video to their 'LinkedIn Learning platform', but insists it is not a part of the company's compulsory curriculum

The Coca-Cola logo can be seen in the top right of the screenshot. The company has confirmed that it uploaded the video to their 'LinkedIn Learning platform', but insists it is not a part of the company's compulsory curriculum

A spokesperson said the video was accessible to Coca-Cola employees as part of their 'Better Together global training', which is designed 'to help build an inclusive workplace'

A spokesperson said the video was accessible to Coca-Cola employees as part of their 'Better Together global training', which is designed 'to help build an inclusive workplace'

The slides appear to come from an 11-minute video titled 'Confronting Racism with Robin DiAngelo'. DiAngelo, an author and consultant, argues that even well-meaning white people are complicit in racist structures unless they actively work to be 'anti-racist'

The slides appear to come from an 11-minute video titled 'Confronting Racism with Robin DiAngelo'. DiAngelo, an author and consultant, argues that even well-meaning white people are complicit in racist structures unless they actively work to be 'anti-racist'

Democrats say other provisions will result in fewer provisional ballots being counted and block groups from handing out food and water to voters waiting in line at polling places.

'The Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier,' the company said in a statement after it was criticized for staying silent on the law. 

Republicans have dismissed claims that the state’s new rules are restrictive, arguing that the state offers both no-excuse absentee voting and early voting which not all states do. 

The Republican concerns that prompted the legislation arose after former President Donald Trump falsely claimed there was widespread fraud, allegations that were rejected by courts and election officials throughout the country.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said that attacks on the law are 'absolutely not true' and motivated by partisanship.

'For all these folks that are saying it’s restrictive and aggressive and a step backwards, Jim Crow 2.0 - I mean, African American, Latino, and other minorities, their turnout in elections has increased in Georgia,' Kemp said, 'which is what’s so insane about all of this.'    

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola came under fire after leaked slides from an in-company seminar encouraged employees to be 'less white.'

The slides in question, which went viral on social media after they were revealed by a 'whistleblower' working for the soft drink giant in the US, told viewers that being 'less white' meant being 'less oppressive', 'less arrogant' and 'less ignorant'. 

The slides come from a series of LinkedIn-hosted videos titled 'Confronting Racism with Robin DiAngelo', a white academic who argues that even well-meaning white people are complicit in racist structures unless they actively work to be 'anti-racist'.   

After calls for boycotts and lawsuits against Coca-Cola, the firm said it merely provided access to the slides on the LinkedIn Learning site as part of its diversity training, rather than making them required viewing.  

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