D.W. Hunter, the great grandson of Anna Short Harrington, the woman who became
"Aunt Jemima," has filed a class action lawsuit against PepsiCo Inc., its subsidiary
Quaker Oats Co., Pinnacle Foods and its onetime suitor, Hillshire Brands Co., on behalf
of all of her great grandchildren. He is seeking $2 billion, plus punitive damages to be
determined at trial.Hunter alleges that the companies conspired to deny that Harrington
had been an employee of Quaker Oats, all the while exploiting her image and recipes for
profit, while refusing to pay an "equitable fair share of royalties" to her heirs for more than
60 years. The claims come on the heels of the defendants allegedly receiving a certified
death certificate for Harrington that listed Quaker Oats as her employer.
Hunter further alleges that the companies have lied while claiming they could find no
employment records for Harrington, or images of her, and yet they had her image deposited
inside the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, according to the document. Harrington took on
the role of the pre-existing character of Aunt Jemima in 1935. In 1937, the company first
registered the trademark for the brand. She was allegedly selected because of her own
pancake recipe, which the company recreated for the mass market. According to the suit,
Quaker Oats sought out Harrington's youngest daughter Olivia Hunter in 1989, ultimately
using her likeness to update the look of Aunt Jemima. It is this image that is used today
on Aunt Jemima-branded products, the suit suggests.
The suit further alleges a racial element to the exploitation of Harrington and the other women
who portrayed Aunt Jemima, going so far as to accuse the company of theft in procuring 64
original formulas and 22 menus from Harrington. It further alleges that Harrington was
dissuaded from using a lawyer, exploiting her lack of education and age, so that the company
could not pay her a percentage of sales from her recipes. Chicago-based Quaker continued
to use Harrington's image for years, and licensed it out to other companies for ancillary
merchandise like mugs and clothing, the suit alleges.
The lawsuit cites Screen Actors Guild residuals and standard policies in the entertainment
industry regarding revenue statements, which neither Harrington nor her heirs ever received.
It wasn't until they uncovered in 2013 that Quaker Oats had trademarked Harrington's likeness
and picture in 1937 that the family determined that they were owed royalties. The lawsuit
alleges that Pinnacle Foods has sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of Aunt Jemima
products. Pinnacle sells Aunt Jemima-branded frozen pancakes, waffles and French toast.
Chicago-based Hillshire dropped its bid to buy New Jersey-based Pinnacle earlier this year.
The suit was filed on Aug. 5 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
Source: Chicago Tribune