Race Bias Suit Against Coca-Cola Bottling to Move Toward Trial
Case Centers on Racist Supervisor Involved in Firing Black Employee,
Albuquerque, N.M. - In a significant legal victory for
the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Denver-based
U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has reversed a New Mexico
lower court's dismissal of a race discrimination lawsuit brought by
the EEOC against BCI Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Los Angeles (BCI)
- which owns Phoenix Coca-Cola Bottling Company and Coca-Cola Bottling
Company of Albuquerque.
In its litigation, the EEOC charges BCI with committing race discrimination
against Stephen Peters, an African American employee of the Albuquerque
facility, when it fired him for not working his scheduled day off,
even though he had called in sick and provided medical documentation.
The federal district court in Albuquerque had previously dismissed
the case on a summary judgment ruling.
In its decision, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that EEOC
may proceed to trial on the race discrimination claim, filed under
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The court found that a jury
might reasonably conclude that Peters' termination was based on his
race because there was evidence that one of his supervisors, Cesar
Grado, treated African Americans more harshly than other employees.
EEOC asserts that Grado made such racial remarks as: "Black guys don't
look good in trucks, they should drive Cadillacs" and "Brothers don't
like the cold."
In its opinion, the court observed that, "In making the decision to
terminate...the human resources official relied exclusively on information
provided by Mr. Peters' immediate supervisor, who not only knew Mr.
Peters' race but allegedly had a history of treating black employees
unfavorably and making disparaging racial remarks in the workplace."
The court further noted, "[h]olding employers accountable for the
actions of biased subordinates also advances the purposes of Title
VII." Additionally, the court pointed out that in a similar situation,
a non-African American employee was neither fired nor disciplined
by Grado after failing to show up for work as directed - as well as
not calling in and not responding to repeated pages.
"We are pleased with the decision by the court of appeals and look
forward to presenting the evidence in this case to a jury," said EEOC
Regional Attorney Mary Jo O'Neill, who oversees litigation for the
agency's Albuquerque Area Office.
In its lawsuit, the EEOC seeks appropriate back wages and prejudgment
interest. The Commission also seeks to provide appropriate affirmative
relief necessary to eradicate the effects of Phoenix Coca-Cola Bottling
Company and Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Albuquerque's unlawful employment
practices including, but not limited to, front pay in lieu of reinstatement
and compensation for past and future pecuniary and non-pecuniary losses.
Further, the EEOC seeks injunctive relief and any other curative relief
to prevent any continuation of the alleged discriminatory practices.
EEOC Phoenix District Director Chester V. Bailey, said, "We are committed
to ensuring that justice is served in this case. Unfortunately, race
discrimination continues to be a problem in the 21st century workplace,
more than 40 years after passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act."
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