Coke sued for alleged unfair practices

January 28, 2013

cokeBy DANIEL BLACKBURN

Two former employees have launched a legal challenge to policies and practices of one of America’s leading soft drink manufacturers, claiming they were terminated or forced from their jobs unfairly amid a “good old boy” network and philosophy.

Arroyo Grande resident Samantha Caldwell, 43, and Mark Snay, 60, of Santa Maria, filed a complaint May 15, 2012, against Coca Cola alleging age and sex discrimination. Their individual actions also assert the bottling giant failed to pay appropriate overtime wages; violated the Unfair Business Practices Act; breached good faith and fair dealing; and tolerated and failed to prevent harassment.

The lawsuit, originally filed in Santa Maria where both plaintiffs worked, was moved to federal court following a petition by Coca-Cola attorneys “who claimed it would be unfair for Coca-Cola to fight in Santa Maria,” according to the pair’s San Luis Obispo County attorney, Dan McGee. The dispute is now in arbitration.

Both Caldwell and Snay held similar positions, alternately referred to in the claim as territory development manager, business development manager and account development manager.

Attorney McGee said his clients “were paid as salaried employees, without receiving appropriate overtime compensation for such overtime hours worked in violation of California law.”

Specifically, said McGee, his clients claim Coca-Cola has used “a scheme of reclassifying job titles to effectively purge older and less physically capable employees to reduce the higher expenses associated with more senior employees.”

Coca-Cola attorney Jennifer Robinson of the Nashville law firm Littler Mendelson told CalCoastNews, “Coca-Cola is taking this matter seriously, and it would be inappropriate for me to say more.”

McGee said Coca-Cola “now has imposed increased physical demands associated with the (market development positions). In so doing, Coca-Cola either intentionally or negligently created an insidiously discriminatory restriction and barrier to continued employment for those employees that are more senior and and less physically stronger. Rather than accommodating these employees, Coca-Cola chose to engage in discriminatory practices aimed at weeding out older and weaker employees in favor of younger and stronger employees.”

McGee said the company’s intent has been “to disguise an attempt to reclassify the position(s) without being required to pay appropriate overtime compensation.”

Snay, a 16-year employee of the bottling giant, told his employer in March that he would be unable to handle newly-initiated lifting requirements for restocking product. The lawsuit alleges he was “forced out of the position by Coca-Cola by the increasing pressures imposed by his supervisors.”

Caldwell, consistently ranked by her supervisors as being in the top one percent in performance evaluations, was instrumental in bringing Coca-Cola to Cal Poly, which previously had contracted with rival Pepsi-Cola for its soft drink supply.

Caldwell and Snay were told by a supervisor that their career paths were “on a death crawl.” Caldwell was told that she was ineligible for promotion “because she is a mom,” said McGee.

Job requirements and working hours changed, said the complaint, but pay did not keep pace.

His clients “were expected to physically carry large quantities of product to build merchandising displays and restocking product in large stores,” McGee said. “This entailed carrying and moving large quantities of Coca-Cola products.” He claimed this meant as many as 60 cases of product might be required to be moved at larger stores, “where six cases may have been expected as part of the prior positions.”

Coca-Cola was involved in a class action lawsuit in 2005 in which plaintiffs alleged essentially the same claims. That lawsuit was settled before trial. Subsequent to that, Coca-Cola initiated changes that now deflect class action efforts into individual lawsuits, and require employees to agree to arbitration.

That effectively creates huge legal expenses for an employee inclined to sue, McGee said.

“Decisions are made to eliminate mothers with children because they are unlikely to transfer or relocate as needed,” he said, citing one of the reasons for which Caldwell was allegedly terminated.

Older employees are handled in similar fashion, “simply by changing the job requirements a little,” McGee said. “The discriminatory behavior of Coke is rampant, not only against women — who are told to be showy to potential clients — but against seniors and Hispanics in Santa Maria, who are told not to speak Spanish.”

The attorney said the corporation “gets away with it because people need jobs. This will be a long battle, but we’d like for the world to know that this sort of thing is going on… right here in our backyard.”


27 Comments

  1. advocate says:

    Searching for an Attorney in Florida to represent former Coca-Cola employee in a discrimination suit.

    Recommendations? Not everyone is willing to up against the giant that is known for their federal employment violations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Stunned says:

    I think it’s pretty mean-spirited to add heavy lifting to a 60 year old mans job requirements…plain and simple & he’ll prevail once it shakes out. The “mom” part doesn’t seem to have much merit other than she’s out of a job and wishes she wasn’t.

    And “don’t speak Spanish at work”? I like that. An employer can certainly compel employee’s to speak English in America. Cry a river on that one but, that’s too bad or adios!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  3. slocogirl says:

    “Caldwell, consistently ranked by her supervisors as being in the top one percent in performance evaluations, was instrumental in bringing Coca-Cola to Cal Poly, which previously had contracted with rival Pepsi-Cola for its soft drink supply.”

    She was only able to do this by promising Cal Poly the moon. Cal Poly was not the only one she promised the moon and now Coke has to pick up the pieces from things she “promised” but could never deliver.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5

  4. Slowerfaster says:

    What else has come from the “Old South” in the USA ?

    Slavery, pelagra, kudzu, treason, moonshine…some laced with toxic lead, bootlegging, NASCAR, institutional racism, and peanuts.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 7

    • SLOTECH90 says:

      Also from the “Old South:” Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, aged Bourbon, Duke Univ., Georgia
      Tech., Univ. of Virginia, Jazz, some killer football players, teams, and coaches, peanuts, William
      Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Truman Kapote, Thomas Wolf, Samuel Clemens, Fats Domino, Elvis
      Presley, Hank Williams, Gospel music, chicken fried steak, cajun/creole cuisine, corn pone, grits. and for art we have of course Jasper Johns, Romare Beardon, and Walter Anderson.

      Had enough Slower???

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 3

      • Slowerfaster says:

        You forgot the toothbrush.

        If it had been invented anywhere else, it would have been called a TEETHbrush.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

        • r0y says:

          OK, I don’t usually agree with you on your ideas / posts, but that was FUNNY! LoL!

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

      • Slowerfaster says:

        Tobacco.
        #1 killer of preventable deaths in USA, and the lobby that spends billions against marijuana decriminilization / legalizing.

        That’s the culture of the South and what Coke goes by.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

    • Maxfusion says:

      You forgot Jimmy Carter.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  5. andymikel says:

    True Fact about Coca-cola http://su.pr/18PNeD

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Pelican1 says:

    Things go better with Coke…cause it’s the real thing.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ib-Qiyklq-Q

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  7. bobfromsanluis says:

    Coca Cola, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is used to treating employees any way they please since Georgia is a “right to work” (for less) state. What defines how a company treats their employees is evident in their employment policies, when those policies were changed, if those policies target specific age, gender, or either ethnic or religious groups, and the history of how employees have been treated. I hope the attorneys representing these two people are smart enough to gather as much evidence as they can to show how Coca Cola has changed their policies lately and how various age and gender groups have been treated. In a physically demanding job like delivering, restocking and display building bottled and canned beverages, companies that value their employees will make allowances as they age to move them to positions that don’t cause injuries or accidents. Companies that treat their employees like commodities and have no compassion or care of the impact of doing certain jobs will treat their employees as poorly as they can get away with. The most ironic component of companies enacting age or gender targeted policies is those who write those policies most likely could never even do the job themselves; those who are affected by discriminatory policies like these are apparently thought of as “less than” or disposable – a real shame.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 11

  8. racket says:

    Like everyone, I root for the underdog (in this case Caldwell and Snay).

    But I sense a sour grapes play here, in that they do not want to remain fit enough, or mobile enough, for the productive completion of their duties. I doubt, however, that Coke is without blame, got the exact reasons they cited.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 8

    • r0y says:

      I know what you mean; sometimes I read these things as “Hey, I work for you, you need to take care of me forever!” – It’s a tough call: Coke might not have been up to California standards of labor, but there could also be sour grapes.

      Either way, I’m sure they both see dollar signs in their settlement (at least prior to the leech… er attorney from getting it’s adequate compensation).

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 7

      • bobfromsanluis says:

        “It’s a tough call: … ” Um, no, it is not. Coke apparently went out of their way to establish policies that they used to target older workers who may not be physically as strong as they used to be in order to find a way to get them to quit, or for Coke to have “just cause” for firing. From what I have read here, it appears that Coke Cola is behaving much like WalMart does with many of its employees (I mean associates). WalMart has more lawsuits against it by current and former employees than any other company concerning labor issues. Coke Cola must have hired some former WalMart executives ….

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 6

        • r0y says:

          Maybe because Walmart has a multitude more people working for them than any other company? I mean, if I have 2 employees, and 1 has a lawsuit against me, then HALF of my employees have litigation with me! WoW! Numbers are great!

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 3

        • r0y says:

          I suppose the question being danced around here is: what is an employer allowed to do when an employee becomes less than optimal for the job? (i.e. age, disability, etc). It is a hard thing to discuss, because many people just have their heart strings tugged, but if we look at this logically, there is a point where knowledge and experience (things gained through time) may no longer be out-weighed by performance.

          So, does an employer have an OBLIGATION to retain the employee at more of a loss than just hiring a more optimal replacement? No one wants to hear they’ve become obsolete or less optimal, I’m sure, but this is not the argument. What is an employer’s responsibility?

          A business hires people to do JOB-X for PAY-X, what is unsaid is, the hire must do this job at a certain level. Once that ceases (or declines enough*) then what should the business be allowed to do? *experience obviously prolongs the decline, perhaps indefinitely.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

          • racket says:

            OT, but:

            I hear you Roy.

            For our country, I am getting more and more uneasy about how people like me are going to retire. My peers often say “well, I’ll just work until I die.” But statistics DO NOT bear them out. I have heard numbers as high as 60% of all retirements as non-voluntary (the employee gets injured, or gets downsized, or whatever).

            Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

        • racket says:

          bobfromsl: Let’s see if we can spread the *apparent* blame a little:

          Perhaps Ms. Caldwell came to Coke as an enthusiastic go-getter, charging into her job to place the product in new locations. She’s a real dynamo, and was promoted to Account Dev Manager. After awhile, she’s nailed down her territory, and Coke needs her expertise in a new area. But in the meantime she has started a family and really isn’t interested in spending time away from home. Is Coke exclusively at fault then?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

        • racket says:

          – continuing —

          In the case of Mr. Snay: the walmartizaton of the planet effects everything. Now, instead of making twenty 30-case deliverys to all the corner stores, he’s got to make one 600-case delivery to WM. Then move over to Costco and do the same thing.

          Is it his fault the job got more rigorous? No, probably not.

          Is it Coke’s fault? No, probably not.

          Is he happy to get commissioned on the 600-case sale? Probably. Or if he’s not, perhaps they’d offer him a transfer to a “slower” area with a concomitant reduction in pay. Would that be unfair?

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  9. BeenThereDoneThat says:

    Well in the case of salaried vs hourly it is easly solved. To pay an employee salary, the employee in question has to manage a minimum of ten employees.

    I only know this as my wife use to be salary and was over many people. She took a different position where she is no longer working over people. She went back to hourly. They then wanted to put her back on salary but couldn’t because of the above.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 6

    • kayaknut says:

      This is not always the case, certain job clasifications can be paid salary even is they do not manage any people, it depends on the job.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 2

      • BeenThereDoneThat says:

        Kayaknut I am only saying what the labor board in Santa Barbara stated. Guess that is where the problem would lie.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

        • r0y says:

          I am pretty sure that is only particular to your wife’s employer and/or job or maybe it’s a public sector requirement. In the productive sector, I’ve seen salaried people manage no one but themselves. Perhaps it has changed, but it seems unlikely.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

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