The heirs to the "Aunt Jemima" fortune have filed a $2 billion lawsuit against Quaker Oats and its parent company, PepsiCo, as well as Pinnacle Foods, and Hillshire brands. According to the Chicago Tribune, the family of Anna Short Harrington — the woman who became the face of the Aunt Jemima pancake brand — allege that the companies "conspired to deny that Harrington had been an employee of Quaker Oats" all while failing to pay a "fair share of royalties" for more than 60 years. The family also claims that Quaker Oats trademarked her likeness without compensating Harrington in 1937, but the company claims they have no records of Harrington's employment at the company.
Harrington took on the role of Aunt Jemima in 1935, after she was discovered by Quaker while cooking at a fair. The company recreated her pancake recipe "for the mass market> The suit claims that the company stole "64 original formulas and 22 menus from Harrington" and exploited "her lack of education and age" to dissuade her from using a lawyer so that the company did not have to pay her a cut of the sales from her recipes.
The family is also upset that Quaker "continued to use Harrington's image for years" and licensed it out for use on items like mugs and clothes. Quaker noted in a statement that it could "not discuss the details" but added that the company "does not believe there is any merit to the lawsuit." There have been many billion dollar food lawsuits as of late: Big beef has filed a $1.2 billion defamation suit against ABC over its use of the term "pink slime" and a tennis pro filed a $5.5 billion suit over automatic 18 percent tips, which was later dismissed.