Pepsi Bottling Group faces wrongful termination complaint

Jon Campisi Nov. 8, 2011, 8:38am

A near 20-year employee of Pepsi Bottling Group has filed a federal complaint against his former employer, alleging he was terminated after a comment he made during working hours was taken out of context.

Newtown, Pa. attorney Alexis I. Zafferes filed the lawsuit Nov. 7 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on behalf of Montgomery County, Pa. resident John Collins.

Aside from Pepsi, the additional two defendants named in the lawsuit are Renee Ballard and Don Bove, identified as two superiors at the company.

According to the complaint, Collins, who was first hired by Pepsi  in 1990 to be a warehouse worker and forklift operator at the company’s Pennsauken, N.J. plant, but relocated to the Philadelphia location in 2003, was fired on May 20, 2010, after an alleged incident of racial discrimination.

In late June 2009, the suit states, Collins remarked “white power,” to no one person in particular, which was allegedly said in reference to a videogame, but was overheard by a black male coworker and others.

At the time, a group of temporary employees were discussing a video game called “Manhunt,” a part of which deals with shooting white supremacists, the lawsuit claims.

A white male coworker also allegedly overheard the comment. The suit claims that Collins was unaware that the black colleague was present at the time the comment was made.

Nevertheless, the black employee reported the incident to human resources, who subsequently convened a meeting with Collins to discuss the comment made by the plaintiff.

The lawsuit claims that during the meeting, Collins apologized to the black coworker, stating that the comment was not meant to be offensive or directed to anyone specifically.

On July 2, 2009, however, Collins was suspended from his job at the direction of the human resources representative and a superior.

On Aug. 20, 2009, Collins was officially terminated from his position, allegedly for making racially insensitive remarks.

The lawsuit claims that Collins is being unfairly targeted for an innocent slip-up.

Furthermore, it claims others have made similar remarks but have never been disciplined, let alone fired.

“Black employees, however, have also made racial slurs/comments and were not terminated from employment or were re-hired,” the lawsuit states.

A black employee, for instance, once called a white coworker a “cracker,” the lawsuit states, but the man was not terminated from his job.

On May 20, 2010, Collins filed a complaint against Pepsi Bottling Group with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. He was issued a right-to-sue letter on Aug. 8 of this year.

The lawsuit accuses Pepsi of race discrimination.

Collins seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, front and back pay, attorney’s fees, litigation costs and other court relief.

A jury trial is being demanded.

The federal case number is 2:11-cv-06928-JHS.

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