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Meet Sandra Walker – A Victim of Coca-Cola’s Discriminatory Employment Practices

Name: Sandra Walker
Year Born: 1966
Marital Status: Single with two children
Years of Service: 14 yrs. of service
Location of Facility: Maspeth, NY
Job Title: Production Asst.

What Sandra wants to say to Muhtar Kent:

I think he should come down and take some time to ask the people how they are being treated! He would be amazed by all the negativity people are experiencing at their Coke facilities! Muhtar Kent, racism does exist in this world and at COCA-COLA! HELLO! YOUR COMPANY IS NOT EXEMPT FROM THE WORLD!!!

Personal Statement:

For the first three years at Coke I was a merchandiser. During my first year at Coke, I was sexually harassed and stalked! Nothing ever really changed after that first year! Coca-Cola would rather make you the problem than to recognize they hire a lot of grimy individuals to manage the workers! For example, they do check our background out, but they should do an extensive background check on the people they hire to manage because the majority abuse their positions! So that allows the harassment, discrimination, racism, retaliation, favoritism, sexual harassment!

I was suspended for five weeks because supervisor Joe Manuzza lied saying that I said he was a "dead man" when many witnesses confirmed that what I said was "You are a racist!"

I returned to work after the suspension, but never received the five weeks pay that was unjustly taken from me.

I was banned from driving a forklift, which I drove for eight years. Co-workers made vicious threats like wanting to blow up my house and Human Resources covered up the incidents because the person that made that threat has been working hard for them to destroy me and everything around me! People, especially those in the lawsuit, are being patargeted.

We are being pulled into the office with HR asking us some very explosive things making you feel like we do not live in America and have no rights to complain about anything — just take the treatment! I’m was constantly being followed by supervisors. I couldn’t work in peace! They even switched a white supervisor for a black supervisor, so he could write me up and I wouldn’t say it was racism!

On June 6, I was called in to meet two people from Human Resources who had flown in from Coke’s headquarters in Atlanta. They asked me many inappropriate questions, such as "Do you have friends in your personal life who are HIV positive?"

On June 29, I was called into a conference room with no warning where among others were Plant Manager Patrick Dixon, Director of Security Carlos Rodriguez and Human Resources Director Natalia Torres.

At this meeting I was handed a termination letter, stating in part,

"…your employment with the Company is terminated…

"It is the Company’s position that your conduct is a breach of Company policies and procedures, including without limitation the Company’s Equal Opportunity, Harassment, Sexual Harassment and Retaliation Policy, the Company Workplace Violence Prevention Policy and the Company Conduct in the Workplace Policy…"

In this letter, they had accused me of what I had been accusing them of.

At Coca-Cola’s annual meeting in Atlanta on April 25, 2012, in an orchestrated effort to avoid any tough questions about the Coke 16 racial discrimination lawsuit, Coke Chairman/CEO Muhtar Kent tried to take the offense by claiming a question on the Coke 16 had been emailed to the Company.

The question was submitted through the Shareowner Forum by a user named ELV1152. "I’ve been following the lawsuit against your company in the paper that claims some of your employees in New York are once again subject to racial discrimination at work. How do you explain this and what are you doing to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen?"

Kent had his answer prepared although he tried to make it seem as though he had never seen the question. During his answer, he looked around at the audience and, in a poor acting job, asked:

"…Is there anyone in the audience that are from those two locations?" pretending as though he did not know that they were present. Five Coke employees WERE present and they stood. These Coke representatives were paid by the Company to fly to Atlanta to whitewash any allegations of discrimination in their plants at Elmsford and Maspeth in New York. This was just another lie presented to the shareholders in an attempt to deny any wrongdoing by The Coca-Cola Company.

Kent stated: "If there’s anybody who’d like to, afterwards, talk to our representatives, associates, from those two locations, please feel free to do so." Campaign to Stop Killer Coke Director Ray Rogers went up to one of them at the end of the meeting, but he adamantly refused to speak to Ray. This was Maspeth, Queens, Plant Manager Pat Dixon.

Along with Pat Dixon at the annual meeting was Dorwyn Lewis. I had filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Nov. 23, 2011 that included damaging information on Dorwyn Lewis, who Coke Chair/CEO Muhtar Kent had stand at the annual meeting to attempt to undermine allegations of racial discrimination in Coke’s plants:

My EEOC complaint stated:

"[Item] 13. Additionally, one of Ms. Walker’s co-workers, Dorwyn Lewis, would frequently express his dislike of Black American culture. Mr. Lewis has stated to Petitioner and others that ‘Black American women are not capable of washing themselves properly. They smell bad and their homes are nasty and filthy.’ Mr. Lewis would often refer to certain kinds of food as ‘slavery food.’

"[Item] 14. Mr. Lewis would regularly make these racist and offensive comments in the presence of Petitioner’s Caucasian supervisors. Mr. Lewis was never reprimanded for his remarks."

I am anxious to go to a jury trial to expose the horrible abuses that myself and many minorities working at Coca-Cola suffer and to describe in detail the disgusting kinds of questions I was asked in the June 6 interrogation by Coca-Cola’s Human Resources department.

Lawsuit

Factual Allegations

Sandra Walker

1. Ms. Walker, a black American, began working for Coca-Cola in March 1998 at its plant in Maspeth, Queens as a merchandiser. In 2001, she began working in the production department as a production assistant, a position she holds to this day.

2. Over the course of her employment, Ms. Walker has proven herself as a hard-working, dependable employee. However, despite her performance, Ms. Walker has been subjected to unfair discipline, racist harassment, and a hostile work environment which has materially altered the terms and conditions of her employment.

3. In or around 2005, Ms. Walker’s white supervisors attempted to terminate her for the minor infraction of parking in the front parking lot. To her knowledge, no white employees have ever been penalized to such a degree for doing the same thing. After the managers realized that she would likely pursue a discrimination lawsuit, they retracted her termination, but to date a disciplinary write up remains in her file over this incident.

4. In the spring of 2006, a white co-worker named Derrick was working his last day at the Maspeth plant. To celebrate Derrick’s departure, several Caucasian co-workers in the plant began to drink alcohol while on the job. Derrick looked directly at Ms. Walker and stated, "I’ve never slept with a black woman." Ms. Walker was understandably appalled by this behavior. Nevertheless, Derrick continued to tell her about all of the female employees at the plant that he had had sexual relations with. Apparently, none of the supervisors present felt that Derrick’s comments were inappropriate.

5. Like Mr. Vilceus, Mr. Walker is also aware of the incident when a white co-worker named Phil McCauley came to work wearing a Confederate flag on his head. Ms. Walker and the other African American employees were obviously offended by the display. Finally, after Ms. Walker complained to her superiors, McCauley took off the flag.

6. Ms. Walker was present during several public displays of racism that are described more fully in Mr. Vilceus’s section of this complaint. These include the times when white employee Ms. Pernelli asked "Why do I always have to clean out the sewer? What am I, a nigger or something?" and when she said "that nigger is trying to kill me by taking screws out of the ladder." Ms. Walker was also offended when Marcello Ocello yelled out, "the government is handing out Kentucky Fried Chicken!" after President Obama was elected.

7. Additionally, one of Ms. Walker’s co-workers, Dorwyn Lewis, would frequently express his dislike of Black American culture. Mr. Lewis has stated to Ms. Walker and others that "Black American women are not capable of washing themselves properly. They smell bad and their homes are nasty and filthy." Mr. Lewis would often refer to certain kinds of food as "slavery food." Mr. Lewis would regularly make these racist and offensive comments in the presence of Ms. Walker’s white supervisors. Mr. Lewis was never reprimanded for his remarks.

8. On May 15, 2010, Ms. Walker was instructed by her white supervisor, Joe Manuzza, to mop the borders of the building. Upon information and belief, no Caucasian employees in the department were ever assigned to mop the borders.

9. On September 16, 2010, Ms. Walker was written up by white supervisor Joe Manuzza for failing to attend a shift meeting held the day before.

10. While Ms. Walker was written up for missing the meeting, Mr. Manuzza rarely, if ever, disciplined Ms. Walkers white co-workers for missing meetings. Indeed, on several occasions, white co-workers Bobby Dowd, Jr., and Steve McCurrio missed meetings without facing penalty.

11. When Ms. Walker received the disciplinary notice from Mr. Manuzza, in recognition of the differential treatment that she was being subjected to, she approached Mr. Manuzza in his office and told him that he was "a racist."

12. Mr. Manuzza reported to management that Ms. Walker told him "You’re a dead man," and that he allegedly feared for his life as a result. Mr. Manuzza’s allegations were categorically and undeniably false. Numerous witnesses were present who have substantiated that all Ms. Walker said was "you are a racist."

13. Nevertheless, Ms. Walker was suspended for five weeks without pay pending an investigation, and put on "final written warning", meaning she can be terminated for any future disciplinary action. The company investigated Mr. Manuzza’s account, and determined that Ms. Walker never made any threatening comments. Indeed, the investigation demonstrated that Mr. Manuzza lied, and fabricated a story in order to discipline Ms. Walker for complaining about discrimination.

14. Nevertheless, Ms. Walker was never paid for the five weeks in which she was suspended, resulting in a loss of $2,500 in income. Further, Mr. Manuzza was never reprimanded for creating such blatant fabrications. Ms. Walker’s suspension was clearly retaliation for calling Mr. Manuzza a racist, and for protesting discriminatory practices.

15. Moreover, it is undisputed that on December 22, 2010, a Caucasian employee did threaten to harm Mr. Manuzza. Specifically, co-worker Joe Rosalia told Mr. Manuzza "I’ll beat the shit of out of you." This encounter was witnessed by several employees. In fact, one week earlier, Mr. Rosalia, in a violet outburst, angrily yelled, "Fuck that! These dumb mother fuckers, I’m going to fuck someone up! I’m going to drop a bomb on Coca-Cola!"

16. Mr. Rosalia was never reprimanded for any of his threats. However, as already stated, when Ms. Walker was falsely accused of "threatening" Mr. Manuzza, she was suspended for five weeks without pay.

17. After Ms. Walker returned, the company tried to change the reason for her suspension. Upon Ms. Walker’s knowledge, white supervisor Debra Babic was engaging in sexual relations with another employee, and had sent nude photographs of herself to other employees. Ms. Walker received these photographs, and her white managers forced her to show these photographs to them or else face termination.

18. The managers claimed these photographs were not of Ms. Babic and accused Ms. Walker of lying about them. They then changed their reason for Ms. Walker’s suspension, asserting that her lying about these photographs and supposedly "sexually harassing" Ms. Babic was the real reason she was being suspended. Certainly, this absurd charge was invented because the company could not prove that she had threatened Mr. Manuzza.

19. Ms. Walker submitted a grievance over her suspension on October 29, 2010. However, Ms. Babic, the same supervisor whose nude photographs were implicated against Ms. Walker, was the manager in charge of reviewing her grievance. As may be expected, Ms. Babic rejected Ms. Walker’s grievance without any written explanation for why her suspension should be sustained.

20. When Ms. Walker was reinstated in November 2010, she was assigned to be a filler operator. This required Ms. Walker to feed the bottling machine soda caps from a metal bucket for seven hours each day. The filler operator position is widely considered an unfavorable work assignment among the employees at the Maspeth plant, because of the physical toll it takes on employees. Ms. Walker believes she was assigned to this position in retaliation for her complaint about Ms. Manuzza’s racism.

21. Ms. Walker began to develop shoulder pains from working in her new position. Nevertheless, despite her deteriorating physical condition, Ms. Walker continued to work hard at the new position.

22. Later in November 2010, white supervisor Thomas Metzer warned Ms. Walker that the managers "want your hide on the wall" and that "you better watch your back, because they’re after you."

23. One day when Ms. Walker was working in the filler position along with another white female employee, Mr. Metzer went over to help the white employee with loading the caps into the machine, a physically difficult task. Ms. Walker then asked him why he never helped her with her caps. Mr. Metzer replied by yelling, "if you blow this out of proportion, that’ll be the end of you."

24. Whenever Ms. Walker took her breaks in November, Mr. Manuzza would approach her work area, and time her to make sure she did not take more than 15 minutes, as this would give him grounds to discipline her. Mr. Manuzza would also quiz her on the machinery, and the bottling process. Recognizing that Mr. Manuzza was looking for an excuse to terminate her, Ms. Walker made sure to perform her duties exceptionally well.

25. Because of her efforts in a physically demanding position, Ms. Walker developed bursitis in her shoulder and carpal tunnel syndrome in her hands. On December 30, 2010, she took a medical leave in order to improve her condition.

26. Throughout her medical leave, Coca-Cola sent letters to her threatening her termination if she did not return, even though the company knew her doctors had stated she was not fit to return to work. This was a violation of company and union policy on medical leaves, but the harassment continued anyway throughout her leave.

27. Coca-Cola also tried to prevent her from receiving workers’ compensation during Ms. Walker’s medical leave. In her workers’ compensation hearing, the Coca-Cola lawyer unethically revealed to the judge that she was taking part in a discrimination suit against the company. Despite this breach of conduct, Ms. Walker eventually won workers’ compensation.

28. In November 2011, Ms. Walker filed a second EEOC complaint describing the recent discriminatory treatment towards her, including her unjustified suspension for five weeks.

29. Ms. Walker returned to work on November 28, 2011. She fears retaliation and continued harassment even as she makes her best efforts to do her job.

30. Since she returned to work, Ms. Walker has witnessed and experienced discriminatory treatment. For example, in December 2011, Ms. Babic yelled at her needlessly for not wearing a hairnet, when in fact she was wearing a scarf that functioned the same way to stop any hair from falling. On December 6, Ms. Walker also witnessed Ms. Babic give only a warning to two white employees who took an extended lunch break. Ms. Babic is known to never give warnings to black employees, but instead always gives disciplinary warnings for any rules infractions.

31. The hostile work environment and unfair discipline has caused Ms. Walker severe emotional harm. She has suffered from sleeplessness, weight gain, and anxiety, and currently sees a psychotherapist to cope with these problems.