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Race case against Cargill


Twenty-five current and former African-American employees at Cargill, Inc. filed a sweeping, company-wide race discrimination class action case against the food distribution giant, a Business Wire news release commented this week. Lawrence Schaefer, Lead Counsel for the Plaintiffs is a partner in the law firm of Sprenger & Lang, and described the case as a "second generation" class action, because his firm previously sued Cargill for company-wide race and gender discrimination in a successful class action entitled Foster, et al. v. Cargill. The first suit resulted in a settlement in 1985 that imposed company-wide reforms on Cargill for four-and-one-half years. Unfortunately, according to Schaefer, the company forgot the lesson from the first suit. "The first case was mostly about getting these employees a foot in the door at Cargill,"he said. "This case is about getting a seat at the table and ensuring that real changes endure." The lawsuit alleges that the problem starts at the very top level of Cargill's executive ranks. Former CEO Whitney MacMillan is quoted in the Complaint as stating that the purpose of Cargill's recruitment, promotion and mentoring systems is to "find and advance people who look and talk like me." This sets the attitude for the entire corporate culture, according to Schaefer. "When an owner and CEO has that attitude, it has a trickle-down effect. The effect here 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," Schaefer claimed. Cargill has one African-American among its top 150 executives, and low percentages at all management levels. It systematically compensates African-American employees at far lower rates than white peers, according to the Complaint. Schaefer estimates that the damages to the class could be well over $50 million. Cargill, one of the world's largest privately held companies employs approximately 90,000 employees in 57 countries and is an international marketer, processor and distributor of agricultural, food, financial and industrial products and services. Cargill's assets are in excess of $15 billion and its net worth is currently about $7.5 billion. More information about the case, and a copy of the Complaint, are available at

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