Food distribution giant Cargill has been accused this week of race discrimination by 25 current and former African-American employees.

This is the second time Cargill has been sued for company-wide race and gender discrimination, and in 1985 reforms were imposed on the firm for four and a half years following the successful class action Foster, et al v. Cargill.

The lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Lawrence Schaefer, is a partner in the law firm which handled the 1985 case, Sprenger & Lang, and has described the latest Complaint as a “second generation” class action. He believes that class damages class could be worth over US$50m.

Schaefer argues that Cargill’s corporate culture is intrinsically racist, and while “the first [1985] case was mostly about getting these employees a foot in the door […] This case is about getting a seat at the table and ensuring that real changes endure.”

Quoted in the Complaint is Cargill’s former CEO Whitney MacMillan, who stated that the company’s recruitment, promotion and mentoring systems were established in order to “find and advance people who look and talk like me”.

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“The effect here,” claims Schaefer, “is that Cargill for years has administered its systems governing advancement, compensation, evaluation and training to inhibit African-American professional employees from moving to positions of authority at the company or receiving compensation on an equivalent basis to white employees”.

Among Cargill’s 150 top executives, only one is of African-American origin. Furthermore, the Complaint alleges that African-American employees are routinely compensated at far lower rates than their white peers.

To read a copy of the Complaint, click here.