On January 28, the legal department of Coca Cola recently wrote a letter to its outside counsel, informing the law firms that Coca Cola will only retain the services of law firms that 30 percent of billed partner and associate hours need to originate from diverse attorneys. In addition, at least half of the diversity quota must be filled with black attorneys.
However, the “ultimate aspiration” is for at least 50 percent of billable hours to originate from diverse lawyers, with black lawyers constituting half of that 50 percent target.
If law firms do not adhere to Coca Cola’s new standards after two quarterly reviews have passed, then Coca Cola will institute a 30 percent, non-refundable reduction in legal fees moving forward. Further failure to align with Coca Cola’s new requirements may also lead to a cessation in the relationship between Coca Cola and a given legal firm.
Blacks comprise 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, per the U.S. census. In addition, the number of black attorneys is relatively lower, as they comprise only 5 percent of all U.S. attorneys, per the ABA in 2020.
However, Bradley Gayton, the general counsel and senior vice president, proclaimed that “the time has come for us to stop championing good intentions and motivations, and instead, reward action and results. Quite simply, this is now an expectation.”
Gayton also added that he hopes law firms will take the opportunity to promote strong systemic change, as well as inspire others to join with their own commitments.
However, this new rule puts law firms in highly uncomfortable positions. Under Title VUU of the Civil Rights Act, it is illegal for an employer to make decisions based upon race. Thus, if a non-diverse, yet qualified, lawyer is rejected from a job due to skin color, then a potential federal lawsuit could ensue.
Over the years, employers have used various types of racial preferences; however, Coca Cola’s new standard treads into dangerous waters, given the clear paper trail that would provide evidence of making race-based hiring decisions. In other words, Coca Cola effectively paints a target on the firms’ backs.
This news comes after Coca Cola was recently in the news for its scandalous training program, in which participants were told to “be less white.”