In the Courtroom: Tradewinds Targeted for Natural Claims; Alleged Racial Bias at Coke Bottler


Tradewinds Targeted For Natural Claims

A California man last month filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against a group of beverage companies — including Tradewinds Beverage Co., Sweet Leaf Tea Co. and Nestle Waters North America — for misrepresenting “natural” and “all-natural” claims made on the labels for Tradewinds Iced Teas.

The plaintiff, Christopher Rhinesmith of Los Angeles, alleges that he paid a premium price for Tradewinds Iced Tea products for over a year because he believed he was receiving “the health and wellness benefits of a natural product,” according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for Central California on Jan. 18.

The suit alleges that the various claims made on product packaging and on the brand’s website that Tradewinds products are “all natural,” “100% natural,” are made “with all natural ingredients” and are “naturally flavored with all natural flavors,” are false.

Rhinesmith is requesting a trial by jury. Attorneys for the plaintiff are seeking judgement that would compel the defendants to correct, destroy and change all false and misleading labeling and website terms relating to the natural claims, and to award compensatory and punitive damages, lawyer fees, expenses, and equitable monetary relief.

Race Bias Alleged at Coke Bottling Co. in New England

A class action suit filed in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut alleges racial bias in hiring practices for management positions at The Coca Cola Bottling Company of Northern New England.

According to the complaint, Carlos Aponte Jr., along with other non-white employees, has been consistently overlooked for promotion to management roles because of company president Mark Francouer’s stated preference for white employees in those positions, a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

The suit claims “upon information and belief” that there have been over 40 non-white employees during the preceding four years who have been passed over for promotion due to the company’s “illegally and racially motivated preference for white employees in management positions.”

The suit details Aponte’s work history, which began when he was hired as a warehouse worker in 1996. Over the next 18 years, the complaint states that Aponte was awarded several promotions and regularly received excellent feedback during employee performance reviews, including encouragement from supervisors to continue pursuing career advancement opportunities at the company.

However, the suit alleges that when Aponte applied for open management positions on two separate occasions in 2014 that he was twice passed over in favor of a less qualified white employee.

The complaint asserts that a statement made by president Mark Francouer at a December 2016 “town hall” style meeting with employees is public evidence that the company follows a policy of discrimination with regard to its non-white employees.

When asked a question submitted by Aponte about the company’s plans to add diversity to upper management, Francouer allegedly responded with the following: “In corporate, there are a few females and one black person, but the majority of our customers are white, so our company is basically white [run by whites].” A fellow employee later joked to Aponte that Francouer’s answer explained why he did not receive a promotion.

After Aponte sent Francouer an e-mail complaining about his statement at the meeting, Francouer allegedly sent a response denying he made the comment.

The plaintiff is requesting a trial by jury, and seeking the court to award compensatory and punitive damages, interest and costs, attorneys’ fees and any further relief deemed just and equitable.

Farmers Request Quick Judgement in Ocean Spray Case

A group of Wisconsin cranberry farmers requested a Massachusetts federal court to award a partial summary judgement in its suit against cranberry juice maker Ocean Spray.

The complaint, originally filed in 2012, alleges that the company is violating state business practice law by conducting an online auction for cranberry juice concentrate, thereby artificially depressing market prices for fresh or processed cranberries.

The motion, filed on Feb. 14, is seeking judgement that confirms Ocean Spray’s conduct as a violation of Massachusetts General Law 93A and for the court to establish a trial to determine the amount of damages.