A former regional Starbucks manager claimed that the coffee business unfairly punished her and other white employees following the high-profile 2018 arrests of two Black men at one of the chain’s Philadelphia shops.
Jurors in a federal court in New Jersey awarded her $25.6 million for her claims.
According to Law360, an eight-member jury determined on Monday that race was a deciding factor in Shannon Phillips’ termination, violating federal and state anti-discrimination laws, and awarded Phillips $600,000 in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages.
In April 2018, a business manager in Philadelphia dialed 911 to report two Black men loitering in the coffee shop without placing an order. Phillips, a former regional manager of operations in Philadelphia, southern New Jersey, and other areas, had nothing to do with the arrests but, according to her lawsuit, was fired less than a month after objecting to the suspension of another white manager amid the controversy.
The lawsuit claims that the firm used the claim that Black store managers were paid less than white managers to justify suspending the district manager, who was not in charge of the store where the arrests occurred.
According to Phillips, that argument was absurd because district administrators have no say in how much employees are paid.
Instead, according to the lawsuit, Starbucks was “punishing white employees who had not been involved in the arrests, but who worked in and around the city of Philadelphia, to convince the community that it had properly responded to the incident.”
Laura Mattiacci, the attorney for Phillips, told the jury during closing arguments on Friday that the business was searching for a “sacrificial lamb” to quell the outcry and demonstrate that it was acting, according to Law360.
The choice of a Black employee “would have blown up in their faces,” she claimed.
Starbucks refuted Phillips’ claims, stating the firm needed a regional manager with crisis management experience because it needed someone with “strength and resolution” in the wake of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, according to Law360.
Starbucks lawyer Richard Harris said during his closing statements, “A peacetime leader is very different from a wartime leader,” according to Law360.
The times were tumultuous. Starbucks requires a robust and determined individual.
However, Phillips’ counsel referenced earlier testimony from a Black district manager in charge of the store where the arrests occurred and said Phillips was a beloved member of her peer group who worked nonstop after the arrests.
After the verdict was read, Phillips sobbed and hugged one of her attorneys, according to Law360. In an email, Mattiacci stated that the judge would consider granting back pay, future compensation, and attorney’s fees in addition to the award amount.
According to Mattiacci, she will request approximately $3 million for lost wages and roughly $1 million for her fee application. Tuesday, Starbucks declined to comment.
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were detained in a Philadelphia Starbucks coffee shop in April 2018 after the manager called the police to report that the two men were refusing to purchase or leave the establishment.
Later, they were let go without being charged.
After seeing footage of the arrest, the men received a personal apology from Starbucks’ current CEO.
Later, the business settled with both guys for an unknown sum and promised a cost-free college education.
Additionally, the corporation altered its store policies and closed all its facilities nationwide for an afternoon of racial bias education.
The two men also came to terms with the city of Philadelphia, agreeing to pay a symbolic $1 each and receive a guarantee from officials that a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs would be established.
The Philadelphia Police Department changed its approach to dealing with people suspected of trespassing on private property, cautioning companies against abusing police officers’ power.