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When Coca-Cola Chairman Douglas Daft addressed the security guard whose complaint had embroiled the company in three years of litigation, he extended an unexpected offer. Face to face at last, and in front of a meeting of Atlanta Coke employees that was simulcast via satellite to thousands of Coke staffers across the country, Daft offered to mentor Coke security guard Gregory A. Clark. “This is not a shallow offer,” Daft told Clark in front of the entire staff of Coke’s North Avenue headquarters in Atlanta and Coke employees in Baltimore, Chicago and Dallas who watched the Nov. 17 meeting. “You will benefit, and I will benefit if I become your mentor. So that’s what I will do.” It now appears, however, that Clark’s lawyers won’t allow that mentoring relationship to blossom, at least for now. The two were scheduled to meet last Monday. But Clark later canceled the meeting on the advice of his attorney, Willie E. Gary of the Florida firm, Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson & Sperando, who was told he could not attend. Daft’s promise and Clark’s statement that preceded it were preserved on videotape, and a copy was provided to the Daily Report. “Actually, I was surprised that he [Daft] would make such a generous offer,” Clark said last week. “I think it showed that although he’s in a very high position, the highest we have in the company, that he, himself, could identify with the actual feelings and emotions that I could show him that the people felt. Instead of straying away from that, he wanted to embrace that. “To me he appears to be speaking from his heart,” Clark said. “I took it as that. I’m actually awaiting the opportunity to be mentored by the chairman. I just hope the mentoring program is just that, that it wasn’t an offer where, somehow, he got caught up in the moment and felt he had to say something. I felt it was a real offer, and he was very, very serious about mentoring me, as I was about being mentored.” Coke spokesman Ben Deutsch says the chairman’s offer was sincere. “He’s scheduled an initial meeting to sit down with Greg and listen to his concerns and ensure that his situation is properly addressed.” A meeting between Clark and Daft was arranged last Friday after Clark had made his own call to the chairman “to let them know I am taking him seriously,” and The Daily Report called Coke to inquire about Daft’s promise. Coke’s aborted purchase of the Quaker Oats Co. and the Thanksgiving holidays had kept Daft from contacting Clark earlier, Deutsch says. “Mr. Daft is generally interested in listening to what Greg’s concerns are,” Deutsch says. How does the chairman intend to mentor the security guard? “Mentoring can take on different forms, especially when it involves the chairman of the board and an employee,” Deutsch says. “They’ve agreed to have an initial meeting. What happens beyond that will come of what comes of the first meeting.” Deutsch made his remarks before the meeting was cancelled. The offer remains open, Deutsch says. ‘I’M THE ORIGINAL PLAINTIFF’ Clark was one of several Coke employees who spoke at the Nov. 17 meeting. Introducing himself, Clark told the gathering, “I’m the original plaintiff of the lawsuit. � I think I know a little bit about what got us here.” Clark is also one of three lead plaintiffs who were jettisoned from the suit last April by Washington attorney Cyrus Mehri and lawyers with Atlanta’s Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore who went on to forge the settlement with Coke. In a letter to Clark and plaintiffs Motisola Malikha Abdallah and Ajibola “Tai” Laosebikan, Mehri had recommended the jettisoned plaintiffs seek other counsel and suggested they were pursuing their own narrow agendas at the expense of the proposed class of about 2,000 African-American Coke employees. The three, and a fourth plaintiff, Wanda Williams — who subsequently parted ways with Mehri and Bondurant, Mixson — had attempted to bring Gary into the case because they said they no longer trusted their legal team. Gary now represents them in the litigation. ELATION, THEN FRUSTRATION Clark told the meeting that he grew up drinking Coca-Cola “in a little country town” in South Carolina. He was “so pleased” to land a job at Coca-Cola as a $20,000-a-year security guard. “I had just finished my master’s [of business administration],” he said. “I just wanted to get out there and just show the company what I brought.” But efforts to move into a corporate career track proved futile, he told the meeting. He spoke with his managers, with company vice presidents. Everyone told him the same thing: “I just wasn’t the right fit.” “I got tired of hearing that,” he said. “Here I am with a master’s degree. � Let me show you what I can do.” The rejections also made him angry. “So, I dedicated two years of my life,” he said, “to getting the company’s attention.” Clark’s remarks prompted a standing ovation. When Daft made his offer to Clark a few moments later, the auditorium erupted in applause a second time. Coke President Jack Stahl acknowledged during the meeting that Coke has not moved quickly enough to diversify its work force. “I think there were a number of initiatives that were under way,” he asserted. “If you go back in time, the company in certain areas was first class. � But I think it is safe to say we were just not moving near fast enough. Greg, yeah, you got our attention.” Stahl also acknowledged that when it came to diversity in hiring and promotions, “I think it’s safe to say we have not been the gold standard.” ‘FITTING IN’ OVEREMPHASIZED? That lack of diversity may have been due, in part, to a corporate culture at Coke that emphasized an employee’s ability to blend in or “fit” with his or her fellow employees and supervisors. Nurturing employees who were “a good fit” was institutionalized on Coke’s performance evaluations, Stahl and Daft acknowledged at the meeting. Every performance evaluation included the question, “Does this person fit?” with a box to check yes or no, Daft said. As part of the changes occurring at Coke because of the settlement, that particular performance evaluation is being replaced, according to Stahl. “Sometimes it’s too easy to promote and fill positions based on a level of comfort,” Daft said. The question of whether an employee “fit” at Coke too often took precedence over whether he or she could best perform the job, he said. Diversity fell victim to that process. “We want some giraffes in the elephant house, which means we have to change some doors � to ensure we have the best people and promote on ability,” Daft said. “By the way, that little box on that ill-conceived form � . we don’t use that outside consultant anymore.”

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