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Coca-Cola Legal Chief Change Is Part of Larger Reshuffling (1)

April 23, 2021, 9:31 AMUpdated: April 23, 2021, 3:08 PM

Coca-Cola Co.’s surprising decision to replace its general counsel after nearly eight months on the job is one of several recent changes involving the company’s legal and compliance personnel.

The company also parted ways earlier this year with veteran in-house lawyer C. Benjamin Garren Jr., a former Baker Botts and Cravath, Swaine & Moore associate who spent 25 years in a variety of in-house roles at the beverage behemoth.

Coca-Cola recently hired Paul Lalli as global head of human rights, company spokesman Scott Leith confirmed. Lalli, an attorney, spent the past 18 years at General Electric Co., where he was general counsel for labor and human rights.

The Atlanta-based company’s legal and compliance changes come as it copes with trademark fights, political controversy in its home state of Georgia and abroad, and a $3.4 billion tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service.

Coca-Cola revenues have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. The company has shed thousands of jobs over the last year as a result of venues that sell its products—such as stadiums, movie theaters, and bars—being shuttered due to Covid-19, according to Bloomberg News.

Bradley Gayton, the general counsel abruptly ousted this week, was hired last September from his top legal role at the Ford Motor Co. to succeed Coca-Cola’s retired general counsel, Bernhard Goepelt.

Gayton is transitioning to a “strategic consultant” role that could pay him up to $12 million through April 2022, Bloomberg Law reported Wednesday. He declined to discuss his pending departure from Coca-Cola.

Monica Howard Douglas, Coca-Cola’s new general counsel, previously served as a legal director for the company in Southern and East Africa. The former Troutman Sanders associate has worked her way up the corporate ladder since being hired as a managing counsel in 2004.

Leith confirmed that Douglas is the first woman to hold Coca-Cola’s top legal role.

Garren, who most recently served as general counsel for Coca-Cola’s international business, retired Feb. 28, according to an auto-response message from his email account at the company. He previously served as the company’s legal chief for its North America arm and Coca-Cola Refreshments subsidiary.

Garren also supervised the ethics, compliance, and privacy teams at Coca-Cola, where some of his now former co-workers recently bid him farewell with celebratory posts on LinkedIn.

“I am blessed to have had the opportunity to work for such a special company with fabulous colleagues and friends from all over the world,” Garren wrote last month on the professional networking platform.

Garren spoke with Bloomberg Law in 2016 about the company’s 300-lawyer legal group. He didn’t respond to a request for comment about his retirement.

Restocking Legal

Lalli, Coca-Cola’s new global head of human rights, succeeds Brent Wilton.

Wilton, a labor lawyer from New Zealand, left the company in late 2020 after serving over five years as Coca-Cola’s global director for workplace and human rights. He took on that role in 2015 from Edward Potter, who retired that same year after spending the previous decade spearheading Coca-Cola’s efforts to protect and respect human rights in its operations around the world.

Before she moved into the general counsel post this week, Douglas also became chief compliance officer last year, Leith said. She took over the role from former chief ethics and compliance officer and associate general counsel Joseph Moan, who retired a year ago this month after nearly two decades at Coca-Cola.

Moan joined the company in 2002 from Texaco Inc. He previously worked for the oil and gas giant’s legal chief, Deval Patrick, who was hired by Coca-Cola in 2001 to replace former King & Spalding partner Joseph Gladden Jr. as its general counsel.

Patrick, who would go on to become governor of Massachusetts and last year mount an ill-fated presidential campaign, was recruited after Coca-Cola paid $192.5 million to settle a lawsuit accusing the company of discriminating against Black employees. Patrick lasted three years as general counsel before he joined several other C-suite executives leaving Coca-Cola, according to an April 2004 story by Bloomberg News.

The story cited anonymous company sources who said that Patrick often felt like an outsider at Coca-Cola, whose then-CEO Douglas Daft preferred to confer with fellow Australian and former chief deputy counsel Geoffrey Kelly.

Patrick didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment sent through his personal website and Together Fund political action committee.

Kelly subsequently replaced Patrick as Coca-Cola’s general counsel before relinquishing the top legal role in 2011 to Goepelt, who retired last year to focus on “family obligations in his native Germany,” according to the company.

Goepelt, who spent nearly three decades at Coca-Cola, didn’t respond to a request for comment about his decision to depart in February 2020.

His exit was followed by Todd Grice, a former associate general counsel for corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions, who joined Bacardi Ltd. in October as the new top lawyer for the Bermuda-based spirits maker.

Grice, who spent 18 years at Coca-Cola, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Other recent legal moves include associate general counsel and corporate secretary Jennifer Manning taking over responsibility in January for M&A, immigration, and executive compensation and benefits, per her Coca-Cola online biography page.

Canada general counsel Scott Kirkpatrick also assumed responsibility in January for the company’s northern U.S. business, focused on Boston and New York.

That same month veteran in-house lawyers Brian Henry and Russell Bonds were promoted to senior managing counsel and associate general counsel for litigation, employment, and the company’s Europe operating unit, respectively.

Leith confirmed that Linda Spencer, an 18-year veteran of Coca-Cola’s legal group who most recently was its chief privacy officer and associate general counsel for privacy, labor, and employment, left last year after her role was “restructured.”

Spencer didn’t respond to a request for comment.

(Adds detail on Patrick's hire by Coca-Cola in 18th paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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