Coke Oversight Panel Issues Mixed Report

September 27, 2002 ( - Coca-Cola has promoted women and minorities at a faster rate than white men, but a court-appointed task force still found that many minorities aren't convinced their work lives have improved.

That apparent contradiction doesn’t surprise Alexis Herman, a former US secretary of labor and leader of the task force.   She said the report shows Coke still has a lot of work left to change discrepancies in minority employment as well as perceptions about the company’s efforts, according to an Atlanta Journal Constitution story.

The seven-member task force largely praised the company for meeting or exceeding most requirements of the settlement. But the group also took Coke to task for some alleged shortcomings, including the nomination of two white males to the board of directors this year without consulting the task force.

The report on Coke’s workplace climate comes nearly two years after the company settled a class-action racial discrimination lawsuit.  T he first of four to be issued on an annual basis — is required as part of the November 2000 settlement Coke reached with African-American workers.

That settlement, estimated by plaintiffs’ attorneys at $ 192.5 million, agrees that the Herman panel has the power both to evaluate and suggest HR changes at Coke.

Panel Report

The 57-page report included several key findings:

  • Of 6,864 non-hourly US Coke employees, 30% are minorities, up 4% since December 31, 2000. Two-thirds of those minorities are African-Americans.
  • From January 1 to June 30 of this year, white men were promoted at a rate of 4.7%. Some 5% of women were promoted during the same period, while 5.7% of minorities were promoted.
  • Promotional rates at the executive level were far greater for women and minorities. On the other hand, minorities make up only 20% of the work force at the executive level. Minorities also are overrepresented among the lowest-paid “support personnel,” at 47%.
  • Of the 301 new hires Coke made from January 1 to June 30 of this year, 29% were minorities and 55% were women.

The report said Coke has paid $79 million in settlement money to 2,187 current and former African-American employees. The company has spent millions more for other parts of the settlement, including attorneys’ fees. So far, a total of $ 138 million has been charged against earnings, plus another $ 50 million for community support programs.

The vast majority of workers affected by the class-action lawsuit decided to take the settlement, but some opted out. There are still 17 individual racial discrimination lawsuits pending against Coca-Cola, according to the Journal Constitution.