According to media reports, Mayor Adams’ administration is suing Starbucks over allegations that the coffee company unlawfully fired a Queens barista who was active in unionization efforts, marking the first time the city has taken legal action under its landmark “just cause” labor law.
Based on a complaint filed Thursday by the city Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, the barista, Austin Locke, worked at a recently-unionized Starbucks in Astoria from October 2016 until July 5, when he was fired after being away sick for a few days.
Based on the complaint filed with the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, Starbucks fired Locke because he failed to complete a COVID-19 questionnaire upon his return to work.
But Locke claims he didn’t finish the questionnaire because he couldn’t find a tablet to do it on, and he told his supervisor about it.
Locke, 28, believes his managers fabricated the “bogus” reason for his dismissal as punishment for his role in organizing his workplace.
“They knew I was the main person behind the union, and five days after we won the election, they decided to do this,” Locke said.
“Getting fired for something that you didn’t do, and they’re claiming you did, has been pretty messed up. It’s been isolating, “Locke added.
After conducting an independent investigation into Locke’s allegations, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection charged in its complaint that his firing violated the city’s Fair Workweek Law, which prohibits fast food and chain restaurants from firing employees without “just cause,” such as an act of on-the-job misconduct or a legitimate economic reason.
Locke’s action is the first legal action taken by the city under the ordinance since it went into effect in July 2021.
The case requests that a judge order Starbucks to reinstate Locke and pay him back pay and civil fines for lost employment.
A Starbucks spokeswoman stated that the firm would defend itself against the complaint filed by the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection but declined to comment further.