The lawsuit was initiated by the great- grandsons of Anna S. Harrington, a woman whose name is not well known, but whose image likeness has adorned the breakfast containers of families since the 1930’s. Harrington is the original Aunt Jemima and she worked for Quaker Oats, owner of the brand, for many years, appearing in television commercials and making public appearances on the Aunt Jemima brand’s behalf.
In the lawsuit filing, Harrington’s great- grandsons claim that Quaker Oats used their great grandmother’s talents without any intent to compensate her estate with royalties following her death in 1955. According to the lawsuit, Quaker Oats conspired against Harrington by claiming she was never an employee of the business and thus is not entitled to royalties. The great- grandsons say this is false and they point out that Quaker Oats even went so far as to register Harrington’s image with the U.S. Patent and Trademarks Office.
As further proof that their great grandmother worked for the company, Harrington’s heirs were able to find her death certificate showing Quaker Oats as her employer.
The lawsuit goes even further than the demand for royalties. In addition, the suit claims that Quaker Oats deceived Harrington and stole her pancake recipe.
Pepsi Co. and its subsidiary, Quaker Oats, own and manufacture Aunt Jemima pancake mix and Aunt Jemima syrup. Pinnacle Foods is also named in the lawsuit because it owns the rights to Aunt Jemima frozen breakfast food, which includes pancakes, waffles, and French toast.
The class action lawsuit was filed in federal court in Chicago. Pepsi and Pinnacle have been contacted, but declined comment.