White Starbucks manager wins $25m lawsuit after arguing she was fired because of her race

Ms Phillips claimed Starbucks retaliated against Philadelphia-area white managers even if they were not involved in the incident

Graig Graziosi
Friday 16 June 2023 18:52 BST
Related video: 911 audio reveals police called for backup at Starbucks arrest in Philadelphia

A white Starbucks manager whose staff refused bathroom access to two Black men was awarded $25.6m after successfully arguing that the company fired her because of her skin colour.

In April 2018, two Black men visited a Starbucks in Philadelphia to attend a business meeting. A third person – a white man – had not yet arrived. One of the men asked if he could use the restroom while they waited for the third to arrive. The staff told him no. The men, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, both 23 at the time, were eventually asked to leave, and an employee later called the police to report them when they did not.

The men were arrested, and videos of their encounter with police spread on social media, resulting in boycotts, threats, and allegations of racism against the coffee company.

Kevin R Johnson, the company's CEO at the time, apologised following the incident, calling the situation "reprehensible."

The store’s manager, Shannon Phillips, was fired over the incident, but sued Starbucks, alleging she had only been terminated because she was white. A federal jury in New Jersey appears to have agreed with her argument, according to the New York Times.

The jury found that Starbucks violated a New Jersey law prohibiting racial discrimination, and awarded her $600,000 in compensatory damages, along with $25m in punitive damages.

Laura Mattiacci, Ms Phillips' lawyer, said she and her client were "very pleased" by the outcome.

A spokesperson for Starbucks told The Independent that the company had no comment to offer in response to the ruling.

She claimed in her lawsuit that Starbucks sought to punish white employees in and around Philadelphia, even if they had not been involved in the bathroom incident.

Ms Phillips also alleged that one of her superiors, a Black woman, told her to suspend a white manager who oversaw other Philadelphia stores, though not the store where the incident took place. The woman allegedly said the suspension was in response to the white manager engaging in discriminatory conduct, but Ms Phillips said she knew for a fact the allegations were not true, and she pushed back against the demand.

She also said that the in-store manager at the location where the two Black men were arrested was a Black man himself. Ms Phillips said Starbucks took no action against him following the incident.

Ms Phillips said she was fired shortly after she pushed back on the alleged directive to fire the white managers.

Starbucks denied targeting Ms Phillips due to her race, insisting instead that she was terminated because of her reportedly lackluster response to the Rittenhouse Square incident.

Lawyers representing the company argued that the crisis required "a leader who could perform" and claimed that "Ms Phillips failed in every aspect of that role."

Starbucks eventually settled a lawsuit brought by Mr Robinson and Mr Nelson. The settlement with Starbucks was confidential.

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