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Coca-Cola Top Lawyer’s abrupt departure after calling for increased diversity and inclusion


After calling for increased diversity in the legal industry and within companies doing business with his new company, powerhouse corporate attorney Bradley Gayton suddenly found himself out of his top job at Coke. The company is moving its chief lawyer into a new role as a “consultant”, seven months after he joined the company. Some have asked if Gayton is switching roles with Coke on his own accord or is he being forced out because of his progressive views on diversity.

Gayton joined Coke in September 2020 as its top lawyer with the title senior vice president and global general counsel. He was lured away from Ford Motor Company, where he had been for nearly three decades as general counsel and a member of the senior management team.

What went wrong? Some say Gayton may have angered top executives when earlier this year he took aim at firms in Georgia and around the nation when he announced that Coke would require diversity among firms who bill it for work in the United States. Said Gayton in writings to firms doing business with Coke, “Quite simply, we are no longer interested in discussing motivations, programs, or excuses for little to no progress — it’s the results that we are demanding and will measure going forward.” His public push on behalf of the company towards true diversity in its business operations included a directive that promised reduced payments to firms that failed to comply.

Gayton, with his ambitious push for diversity and inclusion within Coke as well as the companies that did business with the mega-giant, suddenly found himself up against that invisible wall. It is the invisible wall inside most companies that keeps true diversity from occurring. It is the wall that allows companies to dangle to the public an illusion of diversity and inclusion, while nothing profoundly changes within its organization. Now that Gayton is gone, who will continue the push within Coke to truly embrace diversity and inclusion, not with pacifying words, but with real action?

Those familiar with corporate America practices wondered if Coke pushed Gayton out because he was coming too close to unveiling what is really behind the curtains at the company pertaining to diversity?  As Coke talks about embracing diversity, some ask if this is really reflected in its business practices, from its hiring and promotion policies to who it does business with, which is part of the company policies Gayton focused his attention on? They say Coke tout’s diversity in its commercials and as it hires people of color on its lower and mid levels within the company, but what does Coke’s executive team look like? Well, we looked and you can too. Gayton is being replaced by Coke’s chief compliance officer and associate general counsel for the North America operating unit, Monica Howard Douglas. She represents one of two executive positions held by African Americans at Coke out of the 40 executives that report to the CEO.

A different news source reported that a person at the company, who agreed to speak about the Gayton situation on the condition of anonymity, said there is a sigh of relief in the entire legal group after Gayton’s departure, “He came in with all of these aggressive ideas, and they were just very unrealistic expectations. He didn’t want any feedback from the leaders who had been there.” SPOTLIGHT was taken aback by this comment and wanted to know what was “aggressive” about a “push for diversity and inclusion” in the year 2021, within a company who sells its products to people of color in Atlanta and around the world.

Coke did not offer a reason for Gayton’s departure but suggested that he resigned from this “dream job” – a full-time position with the Atlanta-based mega giant listed as one of the top companies in the world – on his own accord.

To make Gayton’s departure more appealing to the public, especially those of color, Gayton was appointed to a one-year strategic consultant role which the company vaguely claims, “will focus on working with Chairman and CEO James Quincey to drive certain key objectives”. As he is shown the door, Gayton is getting a $12 million “walk away” package, we assume with a gag order attached. Gayton will receive a $4 million payment, plus monthly payments of $666,666.67 for consulting no more than 40 hours a month through April 2022. With his departure from this executive role effective immediately, some point to the dollars being thrown at Gayton to stay quiet about what he heard and saw while at the big table during his short time at Coke.

Coke declined to offer the public additional information on Gayton’s departure beyond a press release and disclosure form, which says a lot while saying nothing.

Now that Gayton is gone, who will continue the push within Coke to truly embrace diversity and inclusion, not with words, but with real action?



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