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Coca-Cola unit sued for alleged racial discrimination

Coca-Cola unit sued for alleged racial discrimination

NEW YORK—The Coca-Cola Co.'s minority employees work in a “cesspool of racial discrimination,” says a lawsuit filed against a unit of the Atlanta-based beverage company.

David Alvarez et al. vs. Coca-Cola Refreshments USA Inc., which was filed in New York State Supreme Court in Queens on behalf of 16 current and former black and Hispanic workers, charges that an “endemic culture of racism” runs through the company's management and supervisors at its New York bottling plans in Elmsford and Maspeth, N.Y. The suit was filed Jan. 3, but only publicized last week in the New York Daily News.

The lawsuit charges that the 16 plaintiffs “have suffered from the worst of its ills in terms of biased work assignments and allotment of hours, unfair discipline and retaliation, and a caustic work environment.”

It says black and Hispanic workers “are typically assigned to the most undesirable and physically dangerous positions, and to tasks that are outside of their job descriptions.

“Meanwhile, the managers contravene the established seniority system by giving better jobs and more overtime hours to workers with less seniority than minority workers.

“As several of the plaintiffs have found, opportunities for advancement and promotion within the company are routinely biased against minority workers. Finally, the truck drivers among the plaintiffs have had their hours unfairly limited and prevented from working overtime, while white drivers do not have to face these problems,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also charged that plaintiffs who have complained have “faced swift retaliation from the white managers.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory, emotional, psychological and punitive damages, lost compensation, front and back pay, injunctive relief, attorneys' fees and any other damages permitted by law.

Commenting on the lawsuit, plaintiffs attorney Steve A. Morelli of the Law Office of Steven A. Morelli P.C. in Garden City, N.Y., said Coca- Cola's hostile work environment is “clearly something that needs to be addressed.”

Coca-Cola issued a statement saying, “Where discrimination is alleged, we conduct a thorough investigation.” It said it appears one of the allegations in the lawsuit refers to an employee who was terminated five years ago, and “other allegations were addressed and resolved even longer ago. Contrary to the allegations in the lawsuit, our investigation has not uncovered a culture of workplace discrimination. In fact, many minority associates have come forward to strongly disavow the allegations of discrimination contained in the lawsuit.”

“We have investigated, and will continue to investigate, all allegations of discrimination and harassment brought to our attention. We are confident that this matter will be resolved fairly and justly through the judicial system,” Coca-Cola said in the statement.