Coca-Cola has put the brakes on its controversial diversity plan, which included penalizing outside law firms if they did not meet racial diversity quotas, because of intense backlash.
The pause on the diversity plan comes after the plan’s architect, Coca-Cola’s former general counsel Bradley Gayton, abruptly resigned last month after serving less than a year on the job and faced mounting criticism of the quota system.
Some questioned if Gayton’s policies violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says employers cannot discriminate against people on the basis of race.
Scott Leith, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola, said Gayton’s successor, Monica Howard Douglas, is now evaluating the plan.
“When there is a leadership change, it takes time for the new leader to review the current status of the team, organization, and initiatives,” he said. “Monica is fully committed to the notions of equity and diversity in the legal profession, and we fully expect she will take the time necessary to thoughtfully review any plans going forward.”
Gayton made headlines in January when he disclosed his plans to penalize outside law firms if they did not meet at least 30 percent of the billed time from “diverse attorneys,” with at least half of that time from black attorneys.
The legal defense foundation Project on Fair Representation published a letter to Coca-Cola last Wednesday warning that the company’s outside counsel “racial quota requirements” are against the law.
Douglas, the company’s current general counsel, said the soda giant was “taking a pause for now” on the diversity plan but would likely salvage some of it at a later time, Law.com reported.
Even though Gayton no longer serves Coca-Cola in his capacity as general counsel, he signed a contract worth $12 million a year to serve as a consultant to Coca-Cola’s President and CEO James Quincey.
It is unclear if Gayton will be able to have a say in the company’s outside law firm diversity plan in his consulting job.
The “diversity quota” is very similar to the company’s antiracism training that went viral in February, telling workers how to “try and be less white.”