Wonder Bread Told to Pay $120M in Bias Suit

The nation’s largest wholesale baker was ordered to pay $120 million in punitive damages to black workers who said they suffered racial discrimination at a Wonder Bread plant.

Wednesday’s damage award came two days after a jury ordered Interstate Bakeries Corp., the Kansas City, Mo.-based company that produces Wonder Bread, Twinkies, Home Pride and Hostess Cupcakes, to pay $11 million to 21 workers at the San Francisco plant.

The plaintiffs stood up and applauded after the award was announced in San Francisco Superior Court. “Thank you, Jesus!” one exclaimed. Others hugged the jurors.

“I’m numb. This is definitely way beyond my wildest imagination,” said Charles Wright, 52, a former deliveryman whose share of the actual damages awarded Monday was $700,000.

Appeals Promised Lawyers for the company said they would appeal the decisions of the jury, which spent nine days deliberating after two months of testimony about racial slurs and other indignities suffered at the hands of co-workers.

Theodis Carroll Jr., 34, a former machine operator awarded $155,000 in actual damages, testified that co-workers called him “boy” as well as common racial epithet.

Wright said white workers were allowed to take days off to see the San Francisco Giants, but “when I asked for Martin Luther King Day off, I was denied.”

Howard Jones Jr., a former route salesman, was awarded $1 million. He was put on light duty after being hit by a drunken driver, but the company demanded that he sweep the parking lot, he said.

“I refused. I was treated like I was at the bottom,” he said.

The jury found that the company acted with malice and oppression toward 17 of the 21 plaintiffs; these men and women will share the punitive award. All 21 share in the actual damages awarded Monday.

The bakery also said it would ask the judge to reduce the damages awarded because some of the allegations, which date back more than 30 years, occurred when Ralston Purina owned the plant.