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Coke Targeted for Firing Manager

February 23, 2000

ATLANTA (AP) _ Plaintiffs in a racial discrimination suit against the Coca-Cola Co. contend that a black human resources manager was laid off after meeting with Coke’s president to express black employees’ concerns about job cuts.

Larry Jones, a 15-year Coke employee, was one of 500 workers dismissed Feb. 15 as part of the company’s drive to eliminate 6,000 jobs worldwide.

In a motion filed Tuesday, lawyers for eight current and former Coke workers said Jones’ dismissal came a day after he met with President Jack Stahl, who had agreed to express the workers’ concerns to senior management and the general counsel, according to the plaintiffs’ motion.

Jones said he was laid after his supervisor inquired about his meeting with Stahl, the filing said. Plaintiffs’ lawyers say they want to know if black employees who have complained about the waiver or discrimination are being retaliated against as part of the restructuring.

Jones also had organized a Feb. 12 meeting at his church with about 150 black Coke employees concerned over a waiver the company is asking black workers to sign agreeing not to join the race discrimination lawsuit if the plaintiffs are granted class-action status. Those who sign it qualify for enhanced severance benefits.

Coke spokesman Ben Deutsch said Jones’ dismissal was unrelated to his meeting with Stahl or the church meeting.

``We’re going to make a formal response to the entire thing and I’m not going to get into a tit-for-tat on all that,″ Deutsch added.

Plaintiffs are asking U.S. District Judge Richard Storey to void all the waiver forms signed between Jan. 26 and Feb. 15.

Jones did not immediately return a call Wednesday.

Stahl was traveling abroad Wednesday and unavailable for comment, Deutsch said.

In an e-mail sent Tuesday to all Coke employees, Stahl said 1,600 job had been cut and that managers would meet with department heads over the next two weeks to detail future reductions.

``We are striving to be as open and forthright as we can in providing associates with information as the restructuring develops,″ Stahl wrote.

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