Coca-Cola's General Counsel has abruptly left his role with rumours swirling that board members baulked at his radical diversity initiatives.
Bradley Gayton left Coke just eight months after joining the beverage giant, and mere weeks after he unveiled radical plans to improve the diversity of firms working for the company.
Gayton set out aggressive targets to increase the diversity of Coke's external legal advisors which required at least 30% of all hours billed on new Coke matters to be recorded by diverse lawyers (including female, LGBT and disabled staff), with half of those hours to be billed by black lawyers.
The stance was designed to motivate panel firms to improve diversity in their workplace, or alternatively to declare that all their associates were non-binary and swamp the sole black paralegal with Coke jobs.
“We will no longer celebrate good intentions or highly unproductive efforts that haven’t and aren’t likely to produce better diverse staffing,” Gayton wrote in his barnstorming call to arms.
It looked like a win-win for pioneering Gayton, as firms had to agree to their fees being docked by a non-refundable 30% if they failed to meet his diversity targets for two quarters.
Firms acting for Coke including Cleary Gottlieb, Greenberg Traurig, Hogan Lovells, Proskauer, Skadden, and McDermott, Will & Emery are all understood to have supported his edict, although it would have been difficult to publicly oppose it given the poor optics of appearing to argue against diversity, and the importance of retaining Coke as a client.
But in a shock development, Gayton has suddenly stepped down, and the new GC, Monica Howard Douglas, has told the company's 180+ in-house lawyers that her predecessor's diversity policy would be "taking a pause for now".
Mystery surrounds the exact reason Gayton departed, although rumours have circulated that neither the Coke board nor its shareholders were entirely comfortable taking such a prominent role in a highly politicised US culture war.
“The mood now is: it’s a sigh of relief for the entire group, everyone in legal,” said a person at the company according to Law.com. “He came in with all of these aggressive ideas, and they were just very unrealistic expectations. He didn’t want any feedback from the leaders who had been there”.
Gayton declined to tell RollOnFriday why he quit, perhaps moved to silence by the astronomical sums he is being paid by Coke for a vaguely-defined "strategic consultant role" in which he will "drive certain key objectives" for one year.
More of a golden jet than a golden parachute, Gayton is picking up a $4 million lump sum to not be GC anymore, and $666,666.67 a month in consulting fees to work "a maximum” of 40 hours per month
keeping quiet driving those key objectives.