"Aunt Jemima" is a household name for any American who has ever eaten a pancake (read: almost everyone). So it's not terribly surprising that the heirs of Anna Short Harrington, whose iconic image helped make the brand's syrup and pancake mixes famous, are going after decades of royalties from the companies that profited from using her beaming likeness on their packaging. In a $2 billion-plus class-action lawsuit filed in Illinois against Quaker Oats, PepsiCo, Pinnacle Food, and Hillshire Brands, Harrington's great-grandkids maintain the companies lied about employing Harrington, stole recipes and menus from her, and exploited her inexperience and youth during initial negotiations, reports the Wrap.
Harrington's heirs reveal the suit was partly motivated by the revelation last year that Quaker officially trademarked her image in 1937, as well as their discovery of a death certificate that showed Quaker Oats as Harrington's employer, reports Fortune. The lawsuit claims Quaker took part in "industrial espionage" by squeezing Harrington's trade secrets out of her before she died and was involved in "racial discrimination towards Anna S. Harrington’s heirs … reflecting an innate form of disrespect towards African American people." The Aunt Jemima we see today on the brand's bottles and boxes isn't Harrington—it's her daughter, Olivia Hunter, recruited in 1989 for the brand update.