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Georgia General Mills plant’s leadership operated racist ‘fraternity,’ suit claims

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Dive Brief:

  • A “fraternal organization of male [White] supremacists operating in management and HR” at a General Mills manufacturing facility in Covington, Georgia, systematically discriminated against Black employees, a group of current and former workers alleged in a class-action lawsuit filed Sunday.
  • Plaintiffs claimed the leadership group known as the “Good Ole Boys” created a hostile work environment in which Black employees suffered disparate treatment compared to their White co-workers as well as numerous incidents of harassment. They alleged Black workers were passed over for promotions in favor of White employees; selectively accused of workplace infractions; and called racial slurs by co-workers, among other claims.
  • The suit asked the district court for a jury trial as well as injunctive relief and compensatory and punitive damages. In an email, General Mills told HR Dive that it does not comment on pending litigation and “has a long-standing and ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”

Dive Insight:

The employees’ suit, filed in the U.S. District for the Northern District of Georgia, contains more than 50 pages of allegations in all.

Plaintiffs claimed the “Good Ole Boys” leadership “have used members and friends in HR positions — supported by the legal team of a multi-billion-dollar company — to adopt policies and take actions that allow [them] to treat [White] employees more favorably than Black employees in a way that reduces the risk of liability findings in discrimination cases and reduces the risk of paying unemployment benefits.”

Workers also alleged that Black employees were intimidated by leadership and faced threats of retaliation, including when they attempted to report discrimination to regulators. For example, one plaintiff alleged General Mills took adverse action against him after he filed a discrimination charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

One instance of intimidation against Black workers allegedly involved the use of General Mills’ own brand mascots in a mural — displayed at the facility between 2005 and 2021 — in which the mascots were depicted as generals for the Confederacy in reference to a Confederate memorial located in nearby Stone Mountain Park.

“Egregious incidents of racism have gone ignored by local and corporate HR for over 20 years,” the plaintiffs said. “Further, HR routinely informs racist white supervisors about the content of complaints against them along with the identity of the Black employees who made the complaint. This frequently results in retaliation against Black employees.”

The plaintiffs also alleged that facility leadership created false personnel data and transmitted that data for fraudulent purposes in violation of federal and state anti-racketeering laws.

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