HR Grapevine - Coca-Cola to pay after workplace harassment case

An interesting article from Daniel Cave at the HR Grapevine and very much on the #MeToo arena. Worth a read.

A Coca-Cola billionaire has described the £8.5m he will be forced to pay to a former employee, after being found to have touched her inappropriately, as “ridiculous.”

Alkiviades David, who inherited a set of Coca-Cola bottling plants, was told to pay £2.3million in compensatory damages and a further £6 million in punitive damages after a jury found him guilty of sexual battery and harassment.

Multiple reports state that he was accused of firing Chasity Jones after she refused to engage in sexual acts with him. She testified that David touched her at work, showed her a pornographic video on her work computer and brought a male stripper into the workplace.

In court David was said to have had several outbursts – including calling Jones “abhorrent”, disgusting”, and a “liar”. He also told her to “do something with [her] life, woman.”

The case centres around actions in the FilmOn.TV Networks and Hologram USA workplaces – the latter of whom created holograms of rapper Tupac and performer Billie Holiday - which David also runs. David currently states he will not pay the fine. He is a resident of Beverly Hills, Los Angeles. Another trial, featuring similar allegations from a separate employee, will start against David in July.

Me Too and HR

For HR, one of the most damning notes from the case will be the jury’s verdict that workplace management knew, or should have known, about the harassment and the hostile work environment but failed to do anything about it.

Since the Me Too movement began – a variety of separate movements which spread under the viral hashtag #metoo in an attempt to shine a light on widespread sexual assault and harassment in the workplace – many HR departments have had to do some uncomfortable soul searching.

Many will have had to ask: If they are not adequately protecting employees from such behaviours, what do they need to do?

In this case, although not all details have come to light yet, it appears that HR wasn’t checking the boss’ power or creating a culture whereby employees felt they could speak out against perceived unfair treatment. This is fairly widespread. A 2016 report by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that in 2016 between 25% and 85% of women had experienced sexual harassment at work. Yet, the federal agency for complaints had only received 10,000 complaints between 2011 and 2016.

Whilst the EEOC found that this is because employees anticipate negative reactions for reporting it could also be because the reporting systems aren’t in place or they’re blocked from doing so.

As a result of the Me Too movement, some workplaces will be looking at the use of non-disclosure agreements as a condition of employment. It has also been touted that legislation could reduce the use of these. Alternatively, some firms have re-iterated to staff which behaviours are no longer acceptable. Amazon has sent zero tolerance memos to staff regarding workplace behaviour.

Sometimes staff are also asked to leave. Ted Baker CEO Ray Kelvin stepped down after claims of ‘forced hugging’ were made against him. Getting rid of inappropriate, sometimes criminally so, staff is not the most desirable option though.

There are many things HR can do before it gets to this stage.

These include empowering staff to intervene, training on the best way to report incidents, and creating independent hotlines and helplines.

HR itself also needs to be trained on investigations – even if this requires getting external professional and law specialists in.

Clear company guidelines regarding appropriate and inappropriate behaviour should also be set.

HR Grapevine - Coca-Cola to pay after workplace harassment case.