June 20, 2024

General Mills is being sued by eight Black employees in a Georgia federal court who allege that the company has tolerated decades of a racially hostile work environment at its Covington plant, perpetuated by white supremacists dubbed “Good Ole Boys.”

According to the 58-page lawsuit filed on June 2, managers at the facility are accused of holding Black employees to higher standards, passing them over for promotions, and taking disciplinary actions against them at higher rates.

The suit alleges that managers favor white employees for promotions and put Black workers in circumstances that will set them up for write-ups. Managers fabricate evidence that can be used to threaten Black employees with demotions and pay reductions, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also alleges the “Good Ole Boys” at the Covington facility empowered racist co-workers to harass and mistreat Black employees, including those with less than five years at the company.

Managers of the General Mills plant, which makes cereal and trail mix, are said to have used Confederate and Ku Klux Klan imagery as a way to intimate Black workers and discourage them from speaking out, the suit said, and gave as an example a picture depicting Stone Mountain which it dubbed a “Confederate Mural.”

The lawsuit claims that incidents of racism have largely been ignored by HR for decades. Plaintiff Keith McClinton, for example, said in the filing that he had documented discrimination of Black employees in writing to HR for nearly 20 years, so much that HR told him in 2024 to stop putting his complaints in writing. When HR informed managers of the complaints, it led to retaliation, the suit said.

In one instance, around 2006, McClinton said that “KKK” was written across his lunchbox. Managers required that McClinton give a handwriting sample to prove it wasn’t him, the suit said.

The suit alleges that entire careers have been hampered by the “Good Ole Boys,” causing irreparable harm to the career trajectories of Black employees.

The Cheerios maker, one of the nation’s biggest food companies, said that it does not comment on pending litigation. General Mills’ website says that the company prohibits discrimination and values diversity, which it considers to be a “core” part of business strategy.

The plaintiffs seek a trial by jury and compensatory and punitive damages for hundreds of Black employees who suffered emotional distress, mental anguish, and a loss of enjoyment of life.

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