Race Bias Suit Against Coca-Cola Bottling to Move Toward Trial

Case Centers on Racist Supervisor Involved in Firing Black Employee, Agency Says

June 10, 2006

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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