High Court to Hear Discrimination Suit Against Coke Bottling Co.

January 8, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that alleges a Coca-Cola bottling company fired an employee, who had refused to work on his day off, because he was black.

Stephen Peters worked as a merchandiser for a Coca-Cola bottling facility in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he was responsible for placement of the product at various retail locations, according to court documents.

The question before the court is whether Peters’ supervisor Cesar Grado’s alleged racial bias against black workers influenced the decision of a human resources officer to terminate Peters. According to the court documents, Grado had a history of being more lenient on Hispanic workers and there was substantial evidence that Grado made racially demeaning comments and jokes about blacks.

Peters refused a request on a Friday by his supervisors Grado and Jeff Katt to work on the following Sunday, claiming that he had plans and that he had been feeling sick all week. Grado, who did not have the authority to fire Peters, then told Peters that his failure to comply with the order without a “compelling reason” would constitute insubordination that could lead to termination.

Peters then told Grado, “[D]o what [you] got to do and I’ll do what I got to do.” However, Peters went to an urgent-care clinic on Saturday and was diagnosed with a sinus-infection and told not to return to work until Monday, at which point he called his direct supervisor, Katt, and to him he could not work on Sunday. Katt said he did not have a problem with Peters’ not coming in.

On Monday, Peters’ supervisors met to review his personnel file, which revealed that he had been reprimanded once before for not coming into work on his day off and on Tuesday he was fired for insubordination.

The 10 th  Circuit US Court of Appeals reinstated a lawsuit brought on Peters’ behalf by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), determining thatthe EEOC had createdan issue of fact as to whether Grado was racially biased, and whether there was enough of a connection between Grado’s bias and Peters’ termination.

The case is BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Los Angeles v. EEOC, 06-341.