Coca-Cola Scraps Controversial Diversity Initiative

The Coca-Cola Co. has confirmed that it will not move forward with a controversial diversity initiative that would have required its outside counsel to apportion some work to Black attorneys and attorneys from other underrepresented groups.

Bradley Gaston, former general counsel for Coca-Cola, announced the diversity initiative in January 2021. Under the initiative, the overarching goal was for diverse billing by outside counsel to reach at least 50%. Failure to meet the diversity requirements would eventually result in a nonrefundable 30% reduction in fees for outside counsel. If noncompliance continued, the law firm would no longer receive work from Coca-Cola. The company initially stated that the initiative would immediately affect U.S. offices concerning all new engagements. That stance appeared to change abruptly, in April 2021, when the company replaced Gaston.

Coca-Cola never formally implemented the diversity initiative, which proved controversial among some company shareholders. Some shareholders sent a letter to the board, in June 2021, threatening legal action unless the company abandoned the policy.

At least one public policy boutique criticized the policy as containing unlawful “racial quota requirements.” A spokesperson for Coca-Cola affirmed that the company remains “fully committed to advancing equity, diversity, and inclusion in the legal profession.”

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