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Black Pepsi sales rep accuses company of overlooking his talent due to his looks


A black PepsiCo employee has accused the food and beverage giant of perpetuating a culture of systemic racism in the workplace by only embracing African American staff that ‘fit in the right box’ and ‘look a certain way.’ 

Sales representative Lindell Forsythe, 40, penned a blistering resignation letter to company CEO Ramon Laguarta last week, citing discrimination as the reason behind his decision to leave his post at PepsiCo’s South Carolina facility after 14 years. 

In the four-page memo, Forsythe – who won multiple corporate awards for his sales achievements at the company over the years – claimed he was nonetheless ever quite able to climb the ranks because he was a ‘6ft 4in, 270lb, African American with dreadlocks and tattoos.’ 

The longtime employee has also accused the multinational corporation – with brands including Pepsi, Gatorade, Doritos and Cheetos – of taking his idea for a successful Mountain Dew campaign and giving him no recognition for it. 

He further alleges that a PepsiCo executive shot down his suggestion for a Pepsi campaign with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) because it would potentially ‘isolate’ ‘Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs).’ 

Lindell Forsythe, 40, of Summerville, South Carolina, spoke to DailyMail.com about his decision to resign from PepsiCo this week after 14 years. He is pictured with his daughter Maliyah

The ex-employee, who won multiple corporate awards at company over the years - claimed he was ultimately never able to climb up the ranks despite his talent and achievements because he was a '6ft 4in, 270lb, African American with dreadlocks and tattoos'

Forsythe was inducted into PepsiCo's Chairman's Circle of Champions - a global honor - in 2014

 The ex-employee, who won multiple corporate awards at company over the years – claimed he was ultimately never able to climb up the ranks despite his talent and achievements because he was a ‘6ft 4in, 270lb, African American with dreadlocks and tattoos’

Speaking to DailyMail.com in an exclusive interview after his departure, Forsythe said he believes his career path at PepsiCo was stalled simply because his looks do not conform to the type of ‘clean cut’ black person the corporation wants to employ, regardless of his talent. 

‘PepsiCo claims to be embracing black people but in reality for that person to succeed they have to be the exact image of what the company wants a black person to be and look like,’ he said.

‘I definitely believe they didn’t treat me right as a black man, but not just as a black man, but because of what I look like as a black man. I didn’t fit their box.’

He continued: ‘They regularly send out emails about people who have been promoted, many of them black. But none of these black men look like me. They all have this very clean cut image.

PEPSICO’S FULL STATEMENT TO DAILYMAIL.COM:

PepsiCo told DailyMail.com after we contacted them regarding the allegations: ‘We are deeply saddened to hear of Mr. Forsythe’s experience.

‘While Mr. Forsythe has resigned, we take his allegations seriously. At PepsiCo, we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind, and whenever we learn of any actions that potentially go against our code of conduct and values, we require an investigation.

‘Furthermore, we have a non-retaliation policy that protects individuals who report issues, and we will continue to encourage a workplace where employees can confidently speak up without retaliation.’

‘And if you are black you have to fit that certain box, while we have other people, Caucasians, who have been promoted but don’t have to do that.

‘I’m not saying they didn’t work hard, because I don’t know their stories. But I know mine and I definitely feel like the color of my skin and the way that I look was the thing that drove it.’

After the George Floyd murder in 2020, company boss Laguarta, 58, announced the launch of a more than $400million ‘set of initiatives over five years to lift up Black communities and increase Black representation at PepsiCo.’ 

Laguarta, who was appointed CEO in 2018 and has been with PepsiCo for 26 years, added on the company website: ‘My parents raised me to believe that all people are equal, that diversity is a reflection of our common humanity. This is both true in companies and the larger society.’

However, Forsythe suggested the company has failed to make good on their pledge after saying he initially believed PepsiCo was a place he could build a career and eventually retire from.

He continues: ‘I noticed there was even diversity in senior leadership… we had a black president on the beverage side.’

But, Forsythe adds: ‘From my experience, the talk of diversity has its limits.

‘Our black colleagues must all fit into a box. We can’t be opinionated for risk of being negatively labeled. We can’t have a certain appearance. Having locks (dreadlocks) or any ethno-centric expression can get you categorized and marginalized.

‘Lastly, it must be known that you are here to do whatever the company asks without any questions asked. We as a group of people (black employees) easily justify this act because we have always been taught to survive.

‘We protect our livelihoods at all costs, even if it means accepting some things that we know are not right. If we ignore all that we see and completely conform, we get to stay on top.’

The father of four joined Pepsi as a driver in 2008 eventually working his way up to a top sales representative in 2015, working out of the company’s facility in Jedburg, South Carolina.

He was inducted into PepsiCo’s Chairman’s Circle of Champions – a global honor – in 2014, and was regularly awarded top regional sales awards after becoming a rep for taking low-earning patches and turning them into top money-earners.

But it was his ambition to create more for the company that led him to put forward a patriotic marketing plan for popular PepsiCo soft drink Mountain Dew in 2013, while still a driver.

The sales rep penned a scathing resignation letter to company CEO Ramon Laguarta Tuesday, citing discrimination as the reason behind his departure

The sales rep penned a scathing resignation letter to company CEO Ramon Laguarta Tuesday, citing discrimination as the reason behind his departure

Black Pepsi sales rep accuses company of overlooking his talent due to his looks

Black Pepsi sales rep accuses company of overlooking his talent due to his looks

Black Pepsi sales rep accuses company of overlooking his talent due to his looks

Forsythe, who lives in Summerville, South Carolina with wife Tara, emailed Pepsi’s then-Vice President of Sales Rich Panner on April 29 that year thanking him for putting an awards program in place – then adding his pitch.

In the email exchange obtained by DailyMail.com, he wrote: ‘One more thing, I now see that we are selling Pepsi and Dew in the same package. I had an idea of putting code red, voltage, and whiteout in one package and calling it RED WHITE AND DEW. Maybe for a Fourth of July or election promotion.’ 

Panner replied with an hour, writing: ‘PS I love your idea on Red, White and Dew…… outstanding. I will ask team to follow up with a picture of Dew variety package we are looking at. Similar concept. 

‘Also please note that we will have Red, White and Blue Pepsi packaging coming as well for July 4th.’

Forsythe believes he was marginalized because he does not look like the 'clean cut' black person the corporation wants to employ, regardless of his talent

Forsythe believes he was marginalized because he does not look like the ‘clean cut’ black person the corporation wants to employ, regardless of his talent

But he heard nothing more until PepsiCo launched ‘DEW-S-A’ – a play on ‘USA’ – in time for July 4, 2017. 

It was a combination of Mountain Dew’s ‘Code Red’, ‘Voltage’ and ‘Whiteout’ flavors – packaged with a bottle cap with the words ‘Red, White, and DEW.’ 

Forsythe told Laguarta in his letter: ‘At first, I said nothing because I wanted to see if the company would do the right thing.

‘Would they honor me like they did the janitor who gave the company the idea for ‘Flaming Cheetos’? To my disappointment, they did not.

‘When I finally reached out, all I got was the run around and empty promises.

‘”The employees who spur those marketing ideas that are used, or which are the catalyst for future ideas, are not compensated beyond their regular compensation” is what one of their lawyers would later say…. I just wanted to make a difference more than anything.

‘So even though I felt like the company was stringing me along, I decided once again that I had to prove to them that I was the diversity and talent that they needed.’

Forsythe told DailyMail.com that in 2017 he was told on the phone by a marketing vice president, ‘I think we came up with that at the same time’, referring to the Dew-S-A concept.

While still working as a driver, Forsythe said he also pitched the idea to include 'Red, White and Dew' in a patriotic marketing campaign for popular PepsiCo soft drink Mountain Dew in 2013, that he claims the company used without giving him credit

PepsiCo's DEW-S-A drinks for Independence Day

While still working as a driver, Forsythe said he also pitched the idea to include ‘Red, White and Dew’ in a patriotic marketing campaign for popular PepsiCo soft drink Mountain Dew in 2013, that he claims the company used without giving him credit 

Forsythe shared an email exchange between him and then-vice president of sales Rich Panner, in which the PepsiCo exec appears to praise and thank him for his work and idea for the Mountain Dew campaign in 2013

Panner replied to Forsythe saying he 'loves' his idea

Forsythe shared an email exchange between him and then-vice president of sales Rich Panner, in which the PepsiCo exec appears to praise and thank him for his work and idea for the Mountain Dew campaign in 2013

He continued: ‘I said no we didn’t. I gave you that idea in 2013. So he said to me, ‘what is your goal, what are you trying to get out of this?’ And that’s when I explained I wanted to be in marketing.

‘But my main thing was I felt as a whole that the black community was not being represented. Not all black people were accepted at PepsiCo. If you look a certain way, they will let you in.

‘Most of us don’t make it out of where we’re from. And PepsiCo made it seem like it was a second chance for us. But in reality it’s really not. They will only let you get to a certain point. That’s it.’

Former PepsiCo Vice President of Sales Rich Panner

Former PepsiCo Vice President of Sales Rich Panner

Forsythe, father to three daughters aged 20, 13, and eight, and a 12-year-old son, also claims his 2019 pitch for PepsiCo to help HBCUs was dismissed disdainfully.

He told Laguarta in his letter that he was ‘shocked when one of the top HR personnel asked me ‘How do you think PWIs would feel? We don’t want to make anyone feel isolated’.

His plan was to try to involve Jay-Z and his Roc Nation label after seeing the rapper’s wife Beyoncé doing homecoming events at the HBCU colleges, he told DailyMail.com.

‘I suggested why don’t we go to Roc Nation and put a plan together with these HBCUs under a Pepsi umbrella. Delivering products but at the same time help them out, like we help other schools,’ he added.

‘And the response to that was, they didn’t think it was a good idea because how would PWIs feel? I was mind blown because I knew that there are plenty of schools that Pepsi is in now that are not HBCUs.

Forsythe was awarded Pepsi Beverages Company Employee Leader of the Year in 2016 and 2017

Forsythe was awarded Pepsi Beverages Company Employee Leader of the Year in 2016 and 2017

He won 'Best in Class Driver' for 12 periods in 2013

He won ‘Best in Class Driver’ for 12 periods in 2013 

Forsythe, father to three daughters aged 20, 13, and eight, and a 12-year-old son, also claims his 2019 pitch for PepsiCo to help HBCUs was dismissed disdainfully

Forsythe, father to three daughters aged 20, 13, and eight, and a 12-year-old son, also claims his 2019 pitch for PepsiCo to help HBCUs was dismissed disdainfully

‘But at the same time it made me understand that Pepsi wasn’t ready to be involved in that type of investment in the community in that way, because they didn’t see the value in it.’

However he said PepsiCo did eventually become one of the companies to make donations to HBCUs but only after the murder of George Floyd which sparked a re-examination of how black people are often treated in America. 

Undeterred, he continued to push ideas forward. 

But another example Forsythe cited to Laguarta that he alleged smacked of racism was during a Zoom conference call with HR and a senior marketing executive.

‘They insisted on me showing my face so they “could see what I look like”,’ he wrote.

‘I realized at that moment, no matter what I did, they wouldn’t allow a 6’4, 270lb, outspoken, dreadlock-wearing, no college-degree-having black guy a seat at that table with them.

‘It appeared that I made them uncomfortable. Perhaps, to them, I looked like someone who would be labeled as a thug or someone who deserved to be written off.

‘It made me think that the only time a person like me would be accepted is if I was an entertainer or an athlete.

‘One thing I am certain about is that they did not see me as I am…

‘The residual effects of the trauma caused from watching the company I work for so tirelessly and really believed in, misrepresent the truth and pretend to care about the community is unfathomable.’

Asked by DailyMail.com if he definitely believed the request had an underlying motive – and could have been asked of anybody, black or white – he replied: ‘I interpreted that remark that they wanted to see what I look like in the sense of, will I fit the look as a black man.

Ramon Laguarta, chief executive officer of PepsiCo Inc., announced a more than $400million 'set of initiatives over five years to lift up Black communities and increase Black representation at PepsiCo' in 2020

Ramon Laguarta, chief executive officer of PepsiCo Inc., announced a more than $400million ‘set of initiatives over five years to lift up Black communities and increase Black representation at PepsiCo’ in 2020

‘That’s how I took it. Why did that matter? We had talked before and that wasn’t the issue, so why do you want to see what I look like? It was just confirmation of that, that I didn’t fit.’

Forsythe says in his letter to Laguarta – whose total 2021 earnings were a reported $21,486,982 – that he was hospitalized three times due to stress and missed the birth of two of his children due to work.

‘For years I was dealing with discrimination, retaliation, bullying, gaslighting, stress, fear, anxiety, and pain,’ he said. ‘One may ask: why would you deal with that?

‘I did what I felt was the only thing I could do as a black man in this situation. I worked even harder at any cost.’

PepsiCo has 23 brands of food and beverage products including Pepsi Mountain Dew, Lay’s potato chips, Gatorade and Cheetos. 

It is the world’s second largest food and drink company, after Nestle and has annual net revenue of $70billion.

Senior marketing director Kourtney Moody, who is black, responded to Forsythe’s letter, saying: ‘Thank you for escalating your concerns. PepsiCo takes these concerns seriously and they have been forwarded to our compliance and ethics department.’

Forsythe now plans to go back on the road, with his own trucking company. ‘I can’t go through what I have been through again,’ he said. 

‘I’m going to be working for myself – and I’m going to make a success of this.’



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