Coca-Cola Pulls Back on Racial Bias Case Appeal

April 24, 2007 ( - The U.S. Supreme Court will not decide whether BCI Coca-Cola can be liable for the racially discriminatory actions of a supervisor at the company who allegedly swayed the decision of a human resources officer to fire an employee who refused to work on Sunday.

The racial bias case was first brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to a U.S. District Court on behalf of Stephen Peters, a former merchandiser at one of the company’s bottling plants in Albuquerque, New Mexico . When Peters, who is black, refused to work on his day off, supervisor Cesar Grado, who did not have the authority to fire Peters, warned him that such insubordination could lead to termination (See Supreme Court to Hear Discrimination Suit Against Coca-Cola ).

On a Saturday, Peters went to an urgent care physician, who diagnosed him with a sinus infection, gave him a prescription and directed him not to go back to work until the following Monday. Peters then told his direct supervisor that he would not be able to work on Sunday. His supervisors met to discuss his absence, and he was later fired by a human resources officer.

The EEOC brought Peters’ case to court, arguing that there wasevidence that Grado had made racially demeaning comments about blacks and had been known to be more lenient with Hispanic workers. However, the company argued that the manager who actually fired Peters had no knowledge of his race and could not have discriminated against him. The federal judge in New Mexico found for Coca-Cola.

The agency argued a “cat’s paw” theory of manipulation, in which Grado did not have the power to fire Peters, but influenced the decision of someone who did.But the EEOC persuaded the appellate judges to give Peters his day in court. In its decision , the 10 th  US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision and sent back the case, determining only that Peters had “created a genuine issue of fact as to whether Grado was racially biased and whether there was a sufficient causal connection between Grado’s bias and Peters’ termination.”

Coca-Cola filed  the petition asking for the Supreme Court review the appeals court decision to allow Peters to have his day in court. But, just days before the hearing, the company withdrew its appeal without stating a reason.