employees that they were being unfairly treated
and unfairly compensated. Beyond the
finances, Coca-Cola spent five years under
court-ordered supervision by a task force to
ensure that the company intrinsically changed
its culture and treatment toward people of
That supervision ended on Dec. 1, 2006,
with great praise by Judge Richard Story. And
Coca-Cola History on The
DiversityInc Top 50
Companies for Diversity® List
2003 (first year participating): No. 18 on the Top 50
2004: No. 6 on the Top 50, No. 4 on the Top 10 for
Recruitment & Retention (R&R), No. 7 on the Top 10 for
2005: No. 6 on the Top 50, No. 7 on the Top 10 for R&R,
No. 8 on the Top 10 for Latinos, No. 10 on the Top 10 for
2006: No. 3 on the Top 50, No. 2 on the Top 10 for R&R
the numbers support his contention that a dramatic change did indeed occur. The number of
people of color in executive positions rose
from 8. 4 percent in 1999 to 21. 1 percent in
2006. In 2003, Coca-Cola debuted at No. 18
on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for
Diversity list and moved up every year, reaching No. 3 in 2006.
How did the company change its corporate
culture to become a national diversity leader?
DiversityInc went behind the scenes at the company’s Atlanta headquarters, conducting an in-depth interview with CEO and Chairman E.
Neville Isdell and other key leaders, and at the
Virginia home of task-force chair Alexis
Herman, to find out what really happened.
The Real Story
“The company always highlighted how much
it embraced African Americans outside the
company, its consumers and its community …
but it didn’t with its employees,” says Cyrus
Mehri, the attorney who represented Coca-Cola employees in the discrimination lawsuit.
“[Former] Coke CEO [Doug Ivester] and the
leadership were recklessly indifferent to the
rights of African-American employees … Coke
ignored the warning signs, that is evidence of
intentional discrimination,” says Mehri.
Prior to filing a class-action lawsuit, black
employees had gone to the leadership at Coca-Cola trying to settle their differences with the
company, to no avail. As Mehri recalls, “Carl
The Tipping Point
“[In 1997] I had a manager
who had made some derogatory remarks and called me the
N-word in my face,” explains
Linda Ingram, lead plaintiff in
the discrimination lawsuit
against Coca-Cola. “She did it
around some other peers … I
was so appalled and shocked
that something of that nature
would happen at that company
in that day and time.”
Ingram is a member of
Ebenezer Church in Atlanta,
which receives endowments
from Coca-Cola as part of its
commitment to the MLK
Center. Through that relation-
ship, Ingram was able to bring
some attention to this incident.
“My minister introduced me
to Ingrid Saunders Jones
[Coca-Cola’s director of corporate external affairs, senior
vice president of The Coca-Cola Co. and chairperson of
the Coca-Cola Foundation] and
she really got the ball rolling
to do an internal investigation.
It escalated to the senior vice
president of human resources.
It had gone to the EEO person
and it was determined that
this person had made that
remark toward others,”
recounts Ingram. And the
story didn’t end there.
“My coworkers were all
white. The manager who was
fired was a white woman.
When she was terminated, I
wanted to be removed from
that team because there had
been a full investigation and
the tension was very tight.
Everyone knew that I had