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Is Coke rethinking woke? Soft drink giant puts ‘pause’ on diversity plan


Coca-Cola appears to be putting a ‘pause’ on its plan to transition to ‘woke-a-Cola.’

The soft drink giant announced last week that it was suspending its ‘diversity initiative’ after the firm replaced its top lawyer after just eight months on the job.

Bradley Gayton abruptly resigned last week as the company’s general counsel just months after he introduced ‘aggressive’ diversity initiatives that included requiring the firm’s outside lawyers to meet diversity quotas.

In January, Gayton announced that The Coca-Cola Company would adhere to ‘revised outside counsel diversity guidelines.’

According to the plan, any law firm seeking to do business with the company was required to ‘providing KO (the contracting officer) with self-identified diversity data (including American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black, Women, Hispanic/Latinx, LGBTQ+, Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander and Persons with Disabilities) for KO’s quarterly analysis of the diversity of teams working on KO matters.’

The Coca-Cola Company announced last week that it was putting on hold a ‘diversity plan’ requiring outside law firms to meet racial quotas if it hoped to work with the Atlanta-based soft drink giant. Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey is seen above in June 2019

Bradley Gayton abruptly resigned last week as the company’s general counsel just months after he introduced ‘aggressive’ diversity initiatives that included requiring the firm’s outside lawyers to meet diversity quotas

After Gayton’s departure, he was replaced by Monica Howard Douglas, who told staffers last week that the diversity initiative was on ‘pause.’

Bradley Gayton (left) abruptly resigned last week as the company’s general counsel just months after he introduced ‘aggressive’ diversity initiatives that included requiring the firm’s outside lawyers to meet diversity quotas. After Gayton’s departure, he was replaced by Monica Howard Douglas (right), who told staffers last week that the diversity initiative was on ‘pause.’ 

The ‘diversity plan’ also includes ‘bill timed commitments’ that require law firms to commit ‘that at least 30% of each of billed associate and partner time will be from diverse attorneys, and of such amounts at least half will be from Black attorneys.’ 

Law firms that fail to comply will see their legal fees reduced or have their lawyers cut off completely from any future work with Coca-Cola, according to the guidelines.

‘As a function, we believe that pursuing diversity is not only the right thing to do, but it’s a business imperative to do so quickly. We know firsthand that a diversity of thought, perspective and experience is critical to drive the best work and outcomes for our Company,’ Gayton wrote on the company website.

But his sudden resignation last week has thrown the plan into doubt.

‘He’s a diversity champion. He wanted diversity. He wanted to make sure we hired enough black outside counsel,’ a company source told Law.com.

‘That was his big focus. But we could have focused on that in a year.

‘What we needed to do was stand up the organization now. That’s what he was hired for.’

Gayton was hired by Atlanta-based Coca-Cola in September 2020. He came over to the company after spending nearly 30 years working as chief lawyer for The Ford Motor Co.

He signed a contract whereby the company agreed to pay him $12million over the next year. That included a $4million sign-on fee and a monthly consulting fee of $666,666.

Gayton will now serve as strategic consultant to the CEO, James Quincey.

After Gayton’s departure, he was replaced by Monica Howard Douglas, who told staffers last week that the diversity initiative was on ‘pause.’

Douglas said that the diversity initiative was being evaluated and that it was likely the company would keep parts of it.

‘She said she … plans to use some of it, but everything is being evaluated,’ a source told Law.com.

‘They plan to adopt some of his strategies and passions. Everything was, “More to come”.’

Coca-Cola has been criticized by Republicans for taking positions on social justice issues. The image above shows a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Los Angeles on April 25

Coca-Cola has been criticized by Republicans for taking positions on social justice issues. The image above shows a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Los Angeles on April 25

Coca-Cola has been criticized by Republicans for embracing Democratic Party-aligned positions on hot-button political matters.

Last month, eight GOP members of Georgia’s House of Representatives wrote to Coca-Cola and told the company that they no longer wanted free Coke products for their offices after the company sided with Democrats in criticizing the state’s controversial election reform law.

Coca-Cola currently distributes products to legislative offices for free. 

Republicans have complained that the uproar over the Georgia law is disingenuous, because aspects of it actually create more opportunities for voting. 

‘Should Coke choose to read the bill, share its true intentions and accept their role in the dissemination of mistruths, we would welcome a conversation about to rebuild a working relationship,’ the Georgia GOP lawmakers wrote in their letter. 

Democrats in Congress, Biden and even some corporations have pushed back on the Georgia law, which would give the legislature more influence over a state election board, reduce the time period for people to request absentee ballots and add an identification requirement for those who want to cast those ballots. 

Although the new law makes ballot drop boxes a permanent option for voters, it limits the number each county can have and will result in fewer drop boxes in the state’s most populous communities. 

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola came under fire for uploading a resource video encouraging employees to 'be less white'. Slides from the 'inclusive workplace' video went viral on social media after they were shared by a 'whistleblower' working for the soft drink giant

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola came under fire for uploading a resource video encouraging employees to ‘be less white’. Slides from the ‘inclusive workplace’ video went viral on social media after they were shared by a ‘whistleblower’ working for the soft drink giant

The slides appear to come from an 11-minute video titled 'Confronting Racism with Robin DiAngelo'. One slide claims that whiteness is associated with arrogance, defensiveness, ignorance and a lack of humility

The slides appear to come from an 11-minute video titled ‘Confronting Racism with Robin DiAngelo’. One slide claims that whiteness is associated with arrogance, defensiveness, ignorance and a lack of humility

The Coca-Cola logo can be seen in the top right of the screenshot. The company has confirmed that it uploaded the video to their 'LinkedIn Learning platform', but insists it is not a part of the company's compulsory curriculum

The Coca-Cola logo can be seen in the top right of the screenshot. The company has confirmed that it uploaded the video to their ‘LinkedIn Learning platform’, but insists it is not a part of the company’s compulsory curriculum

A spokesperson said the video was accessible to Coca-Cola employees as part of their 'Better Together global training', which is designed 'to help build an inclusive workplace'

A spokesperson said the video was accessible to Coca-Cola employees as part of their ‘Better Together global training’, which is designed ‘to help build an inclusive workplace’

The slides appear to come from an 11-minute video titled 'Confronting Racism with Robin DiAngelo'. DiAngelo, an author and consultant, argues that even well-meaning white people are complicit in racist structures unless they actively work to be 'anti-racist'

The slides appear to come from an 11-minute video titled ‘Confronting Racism with Robin DiAngelo’. DiAngelo, an author and consultant, argues that even well-meaning white people are complicit in racist structures unless they actively work to be ‘anti-racist’

Democrats say other provisions will result in fewer provisional ballots being counted and block groups from handing out food and water to voters waiting in line at polling places.

‘The Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier,’ the company said in a statement after it was criticized for staying silent on the law. 

Republicans have dismissed claims that the state’s new rules are restrictive, arguing that the state offers both no-excuse absentee voting and early voting which not all states do. 

The Republican concerns that prompted the legislation arose after former President Donald Trump falsely claimed there was widespread fraud, allegations that were rejected by courts and election officials throughout the country.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said that attacks on the law are ‘absolutely not true’ and motivated by partisanship.

‘For all these folks that are saying it’s restrictive and aggressive and a step backwards, Jim Crow 2.0 – I mean, African American, Latino, and other minorities, their turnout in elections has increased in Georgia,’ Kemp said, ‘which is what’s so insane about all of this.’    

Earlier this year, Coca-Cola came under fire after leaked slides from an in-company seminar encouraged employees to be ‘less white.’

The slides in question, which went viral on social media after they were revealed by a ‘whistleblower’ working for the soft drink giant in the US, told viewers that being ‘less white’ meant being ‘less oppressive’, ‘less arrogant’ and ‘less ignorant’. 

The slides come from a series of LinkedIn-hosted videos titled ‘Confronting Racism with Robin DiAngelo’, a white academic who argues that even well-meaning white people are complicit in racist structures unless they actively work to be ‘anti-racist’.   

After calls for boycotts and lawsuits against Coca-Cola, the firm said it merely provided access to the slides on the LinkedIn Learning site as part of its diversity training, rather than making them required viewing.  

Georgia’s new election laws explained

The sweeping rewrite of Georgia’s election rules, signed into law in late March by Republican Governor Brian Kemp, makes numerous changes to how elections will be administered, including a new photo ID requirement for voting absentee by mail.

Republican supporters say the law is needed to restore confidence in Georgia’s elections. Democrats say it will restrict voting access, especially for voters of color. Here’s a look at some of the top issues:

African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Reginald Jackson announces a boycott of Coca-Cola Co. products outside the Georgia Capitol on Thursday, March 25, 2021 in Atlanta

African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Reginald Jackson announces a boycott of Coca-Cola Co. products outside the Georgia Capitol on Thursday, March 25, 2021 in Atlanta

The State Election Board can now take over local election offices and replace officials 

Much of the work administering elections in Georgia is handled by the state’s 159 counties. The law gives the State Election Board new powers to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace local election officials. That has led to concerns that the Republican-controlled state board could exert more influence over the administration of elections, including the certification of county results.

One target for intervention could be Fulton County, a Democratic stronghold that contains most of Atlanta. The heavily-populated county has been plagued by problems, including long lines, and it is often singled out by Republican officials. Under the law, the board could intervene in up to four counties at a time and install a temporary superintendent with the ability to hire and fire personnel including elections directors and poll officers.

Demonstrators in Atlanta hold a rally outside of the World Of Coca-Cola museum protesting the Coca-Cola corporation's donations to several politicians who are in support of several voting bills that are an attempt at voter suppression

Demonstrators in Atlanta hold a rally outside of the World Of Coca-Cola museum protesting the Coca-Cola corporation’s donations to several politicians who are in support of several voting bills that are an attempt at voter suppression

Anyone handing out snacks or water to voters in line can be prosecuted

The new law makes it a misdemeanor for ‘any person give, offer to give, or participate in the giving of any money or gifts, including, but not limited to, food and drink’ to anyone standing in line to vote. The prohibition extends 150 feet from a polling place and 25 feet from any person standing in line.

Advocates of the law say they are attempting to crack down on political organizations or advocacy groups trying to influence voters just before they cast a ballot. Critics say it’s cruel and would penalize even nonpartisan groups or individuals for something as simple as giving water to someone waiting in a long line. Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler slammed the proposal Thursday before the bill was signed into law, saying: ‘They want to make it a crime to bring Grandma some water while she’s waiting in line.’

Georgia lawmakers argue that polling places would be able to, but not required to, set up self-serve water dispensers for voters.

 Some defenders of the law, including Tucker Carlson, have claimed that the prohibition on handing out water only covers political organizations – which is the law in Montana. 

But the  Georgia law specifically says ‘any person’ – and could include friends and family of voters in line.

Early voting and black-voter drives as Georgia residents attended church were seen as vital in securing Senate run-off victories  for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock

Early voting and black-voter drives as Georgia residents attended church were seen as vital in securing Senate run-off victories  for Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock

Early weekend voting has been expanded, rather than restricted

Republicans had proposed at one time to limit early voting on weekends, a time when many black churches conduct ‘souls to the polls’ efforts to take congregants to vote. But Republicans reversed themselves, and the measure now expands weekend early voting. Previously, one day of weekend voting was required, with counties given the option of offering more. Now two Saturdays will be required, and counties can offer two Sunday voting days as well. Republicans point to this provision to argue they are actually expanding, rather than restricting, voting access.

‘Contrary to the hyper-partisan rhetoric you may have heard inside and outside this gold dome, the facts are that this new law will expand voting access in the Peach State,’ Kemp said Thursday.

State Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, is placed into the back of a Georgia State Capitol patrol car after being arrested by Georgia State Troopers at the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta, Thursday, March 25, 2021

State Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta, is placed into the back of a Georgia State Capitol patrol car after being arrested by Georgia State Troopers at the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta, Thursday, March 25, 2021

Georgia’s runoff races will be shortened 

Georgia is the only state in the nation that mandates runoff elections between the top two finishers following general elections in which no candidate achieves a majority. Like some other states, Georgia also mandates runoffs for candidates who do not win a majority in a party primary.

The system came under scrutiny from Republicans after Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won twin runoffs in January.

The new law shortens the time for runoffs from nine weeks to four, with lawmakers saying the current span is ‘exhausting’ and needs to be shortened to a ‘more manageable period.’

Military and overseas voters will use ranked-choice absentee ballots to rank all possible candidates before a primary or general election, allowing their preferences to be determined in any possible runoff. Georgia only had three weeks before runoffs until 2013, when a federal judge ordered a longer gap to give military and overseas voters more time to return ballots.

The shorter period means less time for early and mail voting. Early voting had lasted three weeks before runoffs. Now early voting would begin ‘as soon as possible’ but no later than the second Monday before the election, possibly leaving as little as five weekdays and no weekend days of early voting. Voters would also have less time to apply for a mail ballot.

No new voters could be registered in the period before a runoff because the registration deadline would be the day before the earlier election.

Protesters opposed to changes in Georgia's voting laws sit on the steps inside the State Capitol in Atlanta, Ga., as the Legislature breaks for lunch Monday, March 8, 2021, in Atlanta

Protesters opposed to changes in Georgia’s voting laws sit on the steps inside the State Capitol in Atlanta, Ga., as the Legislature breaks for lunch Monday, March 8, 2021, in Atlanta

Opponents vow to keep fighting the new laws   

Three groups filed a lawsuit late Thursday to try to block the law. The New Georgia Project, Black Voters Matter and Rise Inc. say the law violates the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as parts of the federal Voting Rights Act that say states cannot restrict Black voter participation.

‘These unjustified measures will individually and cumulatively operate to impose unconstitutional burdens on the right to vote, to deny or abridge the voting rights of Black Georgians, and to deny Black voters in Georgia an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process and elect candidates of their choice,’ says the lawsuit, which is filed against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Georgia’s State Elections Board.

Opponents are also looking to Congress, which is considering nationwide voting standards. A Democratic-backed measure passed the House earlier this month, but faces opposition from Senate Republicans wary of a federal takeover of state elections.

The federal proposal would create automatic voter registration nationwide, allow former felons to vote, and limit the ways states can remove registered voters from their rolls. It would expand voting by mail, promote early voting and give states money to track absentee ballots.



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