Almost 60 years after the death of Anna Short Harrington, also known as “Aunt Jemima,” the Harrington family has filed a $2 billion class-action lawsuit against PepsiCo Inc., its subsidiary Quaker Oats Co., Pinnacle Foods and its onetime suitor, Hillshire Brands Co.
The lawsuit was filed on Aug. 5 in Illinois after the defendants reportedly obtained a death certificate for Harrington that listed Quaker Oats as her employer. The suit accuses the companies of conspiracy among other things.
D.W. Hunter, Harrington's great-grandson, claims the companies worked together to deny having proof that Harrington was an employee of the Chicago-based Quaker Oats company. He claims since her death they have exploited her image and recipes for profit, in addition to refusing to pay an "equitable fair share of royalties" to her heirs.
According to Harrington’s heirs, the companies lied in claims that they couldn't find employment records or images of Harrington. However, those companies also had her image deposited inside the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Quaker released a statement denying plausible cause for the suit. “People associate The Aunt Jemima Brand with warmth, hospitality and comfort, and we stand by this heritage as well as the ways in which we do business,” the company said.
Harrington was appointed the role of Aunt Jemima in 1935, based on her own recipe for hotcakes, and the company registered for the trademark in 1937.
Since then, Quaker, Screen Actors Guild and Pinnacle Foods — the manufacturers of Aunt Jemima brand's frozen goods — have all made sizable profits off the Aunt Jemima brand. However, the family didn’t decide to file suit until 2013, when the trademark was brought to light.
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(Photo: Quaker Oats Company, Pepsi co, Quaker Oats Company)