ATLANTA (AP) – A judge on Thursday dismissed fraud claims made by a former Coca-Cola employee against the company, but ruled his whistleblower lawsuit may continue.

Matthew Whitley, a former finance manager in Coke’s fountain division, filed the lawsuit in May.

He claims he was laid off shortly after he accused Coke of rigging a marketing test to inflate the popularity of Frozen Coke at Virginia Burger King restaurants three years ago.

Coke has said Whitley was laid off due to downsizing. His motives have also been questioned because he demanded millions from Coke in exchange for his silence.

Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Long dismissed allegations that the beverage maker sought to hide fraud and that company president Steve Heyer and chief financial officer Gary Fayard broke Whitley’s trust by disclosing an e-mail in which Whitley details his allegations.

Long allowed Whitley’s claim of emotional distress to stand. Other claims involving conspiracies to have Whitley fired and that Coke spread libelous information about Whitley were partially dismissed.

Coke spokeswoman Sonya Soutus said the company is confident it will prevail on the remaining claims. Whitley’s attorney, Marc Garber, called the ruling a victory, saying Coke and other defendants will now have to testify.

Coke has admitted undermining the marketing test, and offered Miami-based Burger King $21 million as part of an apology. The Coke executive who oversaw the division responsible for the test stepped down last month.

Whitley’s lawsuits have prompted an investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and an informal probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Whitley’s federal whistleblower lawsuit is not affected by Long’s decision.

AP-ES-09-04-03 1919EDT



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