Coca-Cola’s new general counsel is already out, at tumultuous time

Monica Howard Douglas replaces Bradley Gayton after eight months
Bradley Gayton

Credit: Eric W. Perry

Credit: Eric W. Perry

Bradley Gayton

Coca-Cola’s top lawyer, who had made a public push to diversify the ranks of outside attorneys serving the beverage giant, is vacating the post after less than eight months amid company challenges tied to taxes and social issues.

Coke didn’t offer a reason for the end of Bradley Gayton’s role as senior vice president and global general counsel. It declined to comment Thursday beyond a press release and disclosure form.

The Atlanta-based company said Gayton has been appointed to a one-year strategic consultant role and “will focus on working with Chairman and CEO James Quincey to drive certain key objectives.”

It also said Gayton had resigned from his full-time position. The changes are effective this week. Gayton will get $12 million: a $4 million payment, plus monthly payments of $666,666.67 for consulting no more than 40 hours a month.

Monica Howard Douglas will become the company’s new general counsel. She had been Coke’s chief compliance officer and associate general counsel for the North America operating unit.

Gayton’s departure comes as the company deals with a tempest over its criticism of changes to Georgia’s voting law and as Coke faces a multi-billion-dollar tax battle with the Internal Revenue Service.

Coke’s stance on the voting changes made it a target of criticism from Republican leaders and former President Donald Trump. Before Quincey criticized the new law as “unacceptable,” Coke had faced calls for a consumer boycott by critics who said it should have done more to stop legislation they said restricted voting access.

The tax matter centers on where and how the company allocates profit between the United States and some lower-tax nations. The IRS contends Coke owes about $3.3 billion for underpayment of taxes for 2007 through 2009. But the company, which said it expects to prevail over what it considers unconstitutional actions, could face a $12 billion tax liability if the IRS applies its methodology through 2020.

Gayton started at Coke in September after nearly three decades at Ford Motor Company, where he had been general counsel and a member of the senior management team.

In January, he took aim at law firms in Georgia and the nation when he announced that Coke would require diversity among firms who bill it for work in the United States. The directive included reduced payments to firms that failed to comply.

“Quite simply, we are no longer interested in discussing motivations, programs, or excuses for little to no progress — it’s the results that we are demanding and will measure going forward,” Gayton wrote to firms doing business with Coke.

In announcing Gayton’s resignation, the company wrote in a press release that he had led Coke’s legal organization “through an important period of transition” and also had “led initiatives for innovation, diversity and inclusion, including advancing public service through the law.”

In a press release, Quincey thanked Gayton for his service and said he “has shown himself to be a strategic and results-oriented leader.”

Gayton was quoted saying, “It has been a privilege to do such important work with my amazing colleagues in the legal department and to be part of Coca-Cola’s dynamic leadership team.”