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Coca-Cola pauses controversial diversity plan after abrupt departure of company's top lawyer

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 5/4/2021 Michael Lee
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Coca-Cola has temporarily abandoned its diversity plan after general counsel Bradley Gayton, the architect of the company’s diversity policy, abruptly resigned last month.

"When there is a leadership change, it takes time for the new leader to review the current status of the team, organization and initiatives," said Coke spokesman Scott Leith, who said incoming general counsel Monica Howard Douglas will be reviewing the plan. "Monica is fully committed to the notions of equity and diversity in the legal profession, and we fully expect she will take the time necessary to thoughtfully review any plans going forward."

Gayton announced a plan in January to punish outside law firms that did not meet Coca-Cola's diversity standards, threatening to slash their fees or stop doing business with the firms completely.

The plan required outside law firms to have at least 30% of their bill time come from “diverse attorneys,” half of which had to be black attorneys.

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But the plan was controversial among many, including critics who questioned whether such a policy may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"The hard truth is that our profession is not treating the issue of diversity and inclusion as a business imperative," Gayton said at the time. "We have a crisis on our hands, and we need to commit ourselves to specific actions that will accelerate the diversity of the legal profession."

The plan was just the start of a string of controversies for the company, including the February leak of company diversity training that urged employees to be “less white.” 

"In the U.S. and other Western nations, white people are socialized to feel that they are inherently superior because they are white," read one of the slides in the training.

A different slide urged employees to "try to be less white" and "be less oppressive," "listen," "believe," and "break with white solidarity."

The following month, the company caused more controversy when its CEO came out in strong opposition to Georgia’s new election security law.

"Let me be crystal clear and unequivocal — this legislation is unacceptable, it is a step backward, and it does not promote principles that we have stood for here in Georgia, around broad access to voting, around voter convenience, about ensuring election integrity, and this is frankly just a step backwards," CEO James Quincey said of the legislation.

But shortly after voicing that opposition, the company seemingly began walking back its new embrace of social justice causes.

“We believe the best way to make progress now is for everyone to come together to listen, respectfully share concerns and collaborate on a path forward. We remain open to productive conversations with advocacy groups and lawmakers who may have differing views," the company told the Washington Examiner. "It’s time to find common ground. In the end, we all want the same thing — free and fair elections, the cornerstone of our democracy.”

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That change of heart may have come about because the company was facing increasingly bitter backlash from conservative customers, with the majority of Republican voters polled indicating they planned to buy less of the company’s products in response to its activism.

Gayton is said to be with the company still in an advisory role, though how much of his diversity plan will be carried over under his replacement is unclear.

Tags: News, Coca-Cola, Critical Race Theory, Georgia

Original Author: Michael Lee

Original Location: Coca-Cola pauses controversial diversity plan after abrupt departure of company's top lawyer

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