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Stores suing Pepsi for discrimination

Special to the Post

aimee.jones@rockdalecitizen.com

COVINGTON - Three Newton County convenience store owners have filed a class-action lawsuit against Pepsi Cola and a professional retailers organization stating they have been unfairly discriminated against because they are white.

"We're in America, and we're American citizens, and we can't get deals that some others can," said Cassandra Henderson, manager of Henderson's Grocery.

The lawsuit was filed jointly March 29 in Fulton County Superior Court by Terry Wilson, owner of Wilson's Grocery located at 2229 Ga. Highway 212; John J. Potts, owner of Potts Corner, also known as Potts Grocery, located at 15524 Ga. Highway 36; and Henderson's Restaurant and Grocery Inc., doing business as Henderson's Grocery at 11885 Ga. 36.

Both Wilson and Potts identify themselves in the lawsuit as being "caucasian and ... neither Middle Eastern nor Asian."

The lawsuit is filed against the Pepsi Cola Bottling Group Inc. and Atlanta Retailers Association LLC.

According to the complaint, Wilson learned of an agreement between Pepsi and the ARA to provide certain members of the ARA with a $3 per case discount on Pepsi products, as well as a $1,000 rebate on purchases of Pepsi products from Pepsi.

When Wilson attempted to join the ARA in order to receive the same financial benefits, "he was rebuffed and informed by ARA's authorized representative that he could neither apply for membership nor was he eligible for membership because he is not Asian," the complaint states.

Henderson's Grocery, which is located on Ga. 36 about 4 miles south of Covington, has operated in the area for more than 50 years. Cassandra Henderson, who married into the Henderson family, practically grew up around the store and Henderson's Restaurant across the highway, having started working at the restaurant at the age of 14. She has worked at the convenience store for close to 20 years.

Henderson said the deals in place between Pepsi and the ARA give an unfair advantage to minority-owned convenience stores to either make a higher profit or offer the same product to customers at lower prices.

For instance, she said, if Hendersons pays $17.50 for a case of Pepsi, the retailers who qualify under the deal between the bottler and ARA pay $3 less for the same amount of cola.

"I have to base my price on what I have to pay. Either they sell it at the same price and make more money or they sell it cheaper," Henderson said. "We are just a small, independent grocery store, and we're just trying to make a living like everyone else here."

The plaintiffs accuse the ARA of racially discriminating against them - and perhaps 1,000 more convenience store owners and operators - by refusing to accept "non-Middle Eastern and non-Asian convenience store owners and members and by entering into a discriminatory contract with Pepsi which excluded (them) from the benefits of membership in the ARA."

Likewise, the lawsuit alleges, Pepsi racially discriminated against the plaintiffs by refusing to provide the discounted price and rebate to convenience store owners who were not members of the ARA and/or were not Middle Eastern or Asian and "by entering into a discriminatory contract with ARA for the purpose of providing ... benefits to ARA members because of their race."

A representative with the ARA would not respond to the suit Wednesday, saying the organization had not yet been formally served with the complaint, but would provide a written statement when company representatives have had a chance to look it over. Representatives with Pepsi Bottling Group did not respond to inquiries by the Citizen.

With the filing of this lawsuit, Henderson said convenience store owners and operators will be able to see how pervasive it is for companies to provide advantages to certain business owners and not to others.

"It's just something that's opening our eyes, and we want to get to the bottom of it," said Henderson. "I know that we've been contacted today by lots of media. But, we just want to be treated fairly and get the same opportunities as everyone else."