Steffes worked for Pepsi all her life. She had the credentials and the
But she was the wrong race!
Predictably, PepsiCo spokesman Larry Jabbonsky said the company will appeal.
Jabbonsky defends Pepsi's company line when he said Ms. Steffes was not qualified for the
higher job because she lacked sales and front-line management experience. Pepsi's
Jabbonsky did not offer any data to refute Ms. Steffes' allegations that she had been
denied the promotion because she was the wrong color.
On Wednesday, May 6, 1999 a federal jury awarded $2.6 million to a white woman who PepsiCo
Inc. passed over for a management promotion in favor of a less-qualified black man.
"The jury saw that Pepsi had broken the law. It wasn't about black and white,
it was about race discrimination in the workplace," said Patricia Steffes, 46, who
won the damages Wednesday.
Patricia Steffes worked her way up from payroll clerk to a $73,000-a-year management
position when she applied for the higher post. She said that after she complained
about being denied the promotion, her superiors retaliated.
"They became very critical of her performance," said her lawyer, David
Szymanski. "They tried to transfer her to another part of the state."
Patricia Steffes is now 46 years old. Pepsi Company denied her a career because she
is white, and because she had the temerity to object to having her job given to a
less-qualified minority. Pepsi doesn't like Ms. Steffes very much because she
"went public" with Pepsi's unfair, racist treatment of her.
The press reported that, up until her lawsuit against Pepsi, Patricia Steffes considered
herself a true member of the Pepsi generation. She was the second generation of her
family to attempt to make a career at Pepsi. Steffes joined Pepsi as an 18-year-old
billing clerk in 1972, following her father and other relatives, and worked her way up to
operations support manager for manufacturing.
Steffes' attorney said her problems began in early 1996 when Pepsi promoted a black
employee instead of her. Steffes had been promised -- and was well-qualified for --
the next promotion opportunity which opened in Lansing, Michigan, according to her
attorney. However, Ms. Steffes didn't fit into PepsiCos aggressive minority
promotion program -- the company needed a minority in that position to maintain its
ranking as a "top employer of minorities", and to quell a threatened boycott by
minority employees if "one of their own" was not placed in that position.
Fortune Magazine lists PepsiCo as one of the top 50 worst places for whites to work
in 1999 (Fortune actually promotes this list as "The Top 50 Best Places for Minorities
As part of its aggressive minority promotion policies, in the preceding year PepsiCo
reserved $285 million of its procurement budget for minority- and women-owned
businesses. Thus, Pepsi prohibited white, male-owned suppliers from bidding on this
$285 million in contracts.
PepsiCo also made sure that a recent $2.3 billion Initial Public Offering was handled by a
minority-owned firm. The company also boasts minority membership on their board, as
well as the fact that 2 of their top 18 paid employees are minorities. Pepsi is
quite proud of the fact that 25.2% of its work force is comprised of minorities, and a
whopping 36% of their new hires in 1998 were minorities, according to Fortune
Magazine. Small wonder Ms. Steffes had trouble getting promoted in this company!
Patricia Steffes' attorneys maintain that there had been a black male in that position who
had either been fired or was forced to resign. Ms. Steffes had been promised the job
but, according to her attorney "There was rather a hue and cry among [minority]
employees and [in order] to quell that [Pepsi gave another, less qualified black male] the
Ms. Steffes wrote a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, complaining
about discrimination, and she wrote a second letter to a senior executive at Pepsi.
After receiving no response, she then also sent a letter to her supervisor at Pepsi, Mr.
Charles Stamper, who is named in the suit, according to court records.
According to court records, Pepsi officials weren't very pleased with Ms. Steffes'
complaint. In order to minimize the validity of Ms. Steffes' complaint, Pepsi
retaliated by commencing a personnel process known within PepciCo as "developmental
feedback" allegedly designed to improve Steffes' job performance. The process
was "conducted by her immediate supervisor", and resulted in PepsiCo offering
Steffes a lateral transfer to Pepsi's Port Huron facility "on a take it or leave it
basis," according to Steffes' lawyer.
And Steffes chose to "leave it" rather than "take it". In March
1996 Ms. Steffes took a doctor-recommended leave of absence to deal with post-traumatic
stress caused by Pepsi's treatment, according to her attorney (Szymanski). She
returned to Pepsi on Sept. 16 but was forced to quit the job after only one day.
According to court documents, when Ms. Steffes returned to Pepsi, her Pepsi supervisors
ignored her. In retaliation for her filing a job action, they also ordered her to
train another black man who was being promoted to a position above her which was very
similar to the one she had sought. Ms. Steffes quit Pepsi that same day, court
records showed. "They rubbed her nose in it," her lawyer said.
Steffes graduated from college while working for Pepsi and holds degrees in finance and
accounting. According to her attorney, and the court records, she was more qualified
for the positions than those promoted, regardless of race.
"I'm sorry to see a corporation like Pepsi treat a longtime valued employee like
Patricia Steffes like that," her lawyer said.
News Stories and
Jury awards white woman $2.6
million for reverse race bias in PepsiCo case (dead link)
West Bloomfield Township, Mich. (May 8, 1999) - "A
federal jury has awarded $2.6 million to a white woman who said PepsiCo Inc. passed her
over for a management promotion in favor of a less-qualified black man.
" 'The jury saw that Pepsi had
broken the law. It wasn't about black and white, it was about race discrimination in the
workplace,' said Patricia Steffes, 46, who won the damages Wednesday." (Associated
Press via NandoNet.)
(Older, Background): Reverse discrimination suit
is targeted at Pepsi (07/31/97)
"Pepsi was her whole life," said her attorney, David Szymanski. But in
1996, a promotion she expected went to an African American.
"Now, Steffes of West Bloomfield has sued the soft drink giant, alleging gender and
race discrimination and violations of the state whistleblower law.
"A mediation panel this month recommended that Pepsi pay Steffes $500,000. Szymanski
said his client accepted. Pepsi rejected it. A trial date hasn't been set, and the two
sides are fighting over providing information and a psychological exam for Steffes.
"Steffes' attorney said her problems began in early 1996 when Pepsi promoted an
African American instead of her. Szymanski said at that time Steffes was promised -- and
qualified for -- the next promotion opportunity, which soon opened in Lansing. She didn't
"Our position is that there was a black male in that position who was discharged or
resigned," Szymanski said. "There was rather a hue and cry among employees and
to quell that they gave (a black male) the position." (Detroit News 07/31/97 by
End Case 18: White, Female PepsiCo Employee is Wrong