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22 Apr 1999

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Coca-Cola lawsuit (re racial discrimination in USA)

Status: CLOSED

Date lawsuit was filed
22 Apr 1999
Location of Filing: United States of America
Location of Incident: United States of America
Type of Litigation: Domestic


Coca-Cola United States of America Food & beverage


In 1999, a class action lawsuit was filed by current and former African-American employees against Coca Cola in the US. The plaintiffs allege racial discrimination which resulted in lower pay, less promotions, and poor performance evaluations. In 2000, Coca-Cola agreed to the largest settlement ever in a corporate racial discrimination case. 

In April 1999, a class action lawsuit was filed against the Coca Cola Company by four current and former African-American employees for racial discrimination under the US Civil Rights Act.  The plaintiffs, on behalf of themselves and 2200 similarly situated African-American colleagues, alleged they had suffered discrimination in pay, promotions and performance evaluations.  They provided statistics showing that the median salary for African American employees was about one-third less than that of whites within the company.  The plaintiffs also claimed that “glass ceiling” and “glass wall” policies kept African-Americans from rising to top positions and in particular departments within the company.  Few African-Americans had advanced to senior levels in the company, compared to the significant representation of African-Americans among all salaried employees.  The plaintiffs argued that Coca-Cola failed to prevent and remedy this discrimination.

In 2000, Coca-Cola agreed to a $192 million settlement, the largest settlement ever in a corporate racial discrimination case.  In the settlement agreement, Coca-Cola denied the allegations, but agreed to make sweeping changes to its personnel policies and procedures.  In addition, the settlement gave an outside panel, jointly selected by Coca-Cola and the plaintiffs’ lawyers and approved by the court, limited authority to revise the company’s personnel policy.  This panel, the Task Force, served as a watchdog for five years and was charged with evaluating Coca-Cola’s compliance with the terms of the settlement agreement.  The Task Force issued its final report in December 2006, finding that its “mission has been a success” and that the company had “made significant progress.”

- Judge Is Set to Authorize Bias Settlement With Coke, Greg Winter, New York Times, 30 May 2001

- Coca-Cola Settles Racial Bias Case, Greg Winter, New York Times, 17 Nov 2000

- Coca-Cola in race pay-out, BBC News, 16 Nov 2000

The Coca Cola Company:
- Corporate Responsibility - Diversity

Mehri & Skalet, P.L.L.C. [plaintiffs’ counsel]:
- The Coca Cola Company [summary of case] 

- Coca Cola Task Force Reports, 2002 to 2006

- Adballah et al. v. Coca-Cola - Amended Complaint, 22 Apr 1999