Your Source for NPR News & Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Black workers sue General Mills over alleged racial discrimination at a Georgia plant

Cereal maker General Mills is facing a federal lawsuit from some of its Black employees who argue that the company's plant in Covington, Ga., has "embraced a racially hostile work environment." Here, a photo shows General Mills cereal products on display at a supermarket in Miami in May 2017.
Alan Diaz/AP
/
AP
Cereal maker General Mills is facing a federal lawsuit from some of its Black employees who argue that the company's plant in Covington, Ga., has "embraced a racially hostile work environment." Here, a photo shows General Mills cereal products on display at a supermarket in Miami in May 2017.

Cereal giant General Mills is facing a federal lawsuit filed by several of its Black employees who claim that one of the company’s plants in Georgia has “embraced a racially hostile work environment” controlled by “white supremacists.”

In a 60-page federal lawsuit filed earlier this month, the plaintiffs allege that the managers at the Covington, Ga., plant favor white employees for promotions over its Black employees — as they allege that more disciplinary actions were issued toward Black employees.

In addition, the plaintiffs allege that the plant is run by a group of “male white supremacists operating in management and HR,” as they claim the teams formed a group called the “Good Ole Boys,” according to the lawsuit.

“The ‘Good Ole Boys’ believe that history and symbols that have been co-opted or misappropriated by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist hate groups are useful to keep Black people ‘in their place’ and discourage Black people from speaking or taking action against the disparate treatment of Black employees at the Covington facility,” the lawsuit reads.

The plaintiffs say that since the plant opened in 1988, several systems have been in place that have benefited the white employees more than the Black employees — as they argue the incidents listed in the lawsuit span the course of over two decades.

In one incident, the employees allege a mural was displayed in the factory from 2005 to 2021 as a memorial for Confederate leaders, featuring mascots from General Mills brands — such as the Cocoa Puffs cuckoo bird portraying Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, and Chef Wendell from the Cinnamon Toast Crunch brand as Robert E. Lee, according to the lawsuit.

In another incident, a Black employee says that in 2006 he found the letters "KKK" written on his personal lunchbox. As the employee reported this incident to management, managers required the employee to provide a handwriting sample to determine it was not him who wrote the letters, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also mentions an incident that took place in 1993 where a noose was left on a Black employee's desk. That same employee, a year later, claims he was told by a white employee to "go back to Africa."

The plaintiffs argue that the “egregious incidents of racism” have been ignored by HR, both locally and on the corporate level, for 20 years, according to the lawsuit. The eight plaintiffs are asking for a jury trial, financial losses and compensatory damages.

In a statement to NPR, a spokesperson for General Mills said the company does not comment on pending litigation, saying that the cereal manufacturer has a “long-standing and ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”

The spokesperson added the company does not “tolerate discrimination of any kind.”

Recent cases of alleged racial discrimination in the workplace have made headlines, resulting in employees filing lawsuits against their employers.

In 2023, several employees of the salad chain Sweetgreen filed a lawsuit in a New York court accusing the chain of “fostering a hostile workplace" in several of its New York City stores. A spokesperson told The Washington Post that the company is “committed to diversity as well as a safe and inclusive workplace,” adding the company is unable to comment on pending legal matters.

In 2021, a federal jury in San Francisco ordered Tesla to pay a former Black contractor $137 million over claims that he was subjected to racial discrimination while working for the company.

Owen Diaz, who worked as a contract elevator operator from 2015 to 2016 in Fremont, Calif., said that he and other Black employees were called the N-word by several Tesla employees and that he was told to "go back to Africa" in addition to employees drawing racist and derogatory pictures that were left around the factory.

The jury award in Diaz's case included $130 million in punitive damages and $6.9 million in emotional damages.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.
Related Stories