Jury Awards $25 Million for White Starbucks Manager Fired After Arrest of Black Men

Bill Pan
By Bill Pan
June 15, 2023US News
Jury Awards $25 Million for White Starbucks Manager Fired After Arrest of Black Men
A person walks out of a Starbucks coffee shop in New York City on Oct. 5, 2004. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A federal jury in New Jersey has awarded $25.6 million to a former Starbucks regional manager who accused the company of firing her as a racial scapegoat following the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia store.

Shannon Phillips, a white woman who had worked with Starbucks for 13 years, sued the coffee chain giant in 2019, claiming that she had nothing to do with the racially charged incident but was unfairly punished in an attempt to quell the public outrage.

In her complaint (pdf), Phillips alleged that Starbucks “took steps to punish white employees who had not been involved in the arrests, but who worked in and around the city of Philadelphia, in an effort to convince the community that it had properly responded to the incident.”

“I was terminated because I am white. If I was black, I would not have been terminated. I was terminated because I complained of and objected to race discrimination,” Phillips stated in court documents.

Federal jurors in Camden, New Jersey, on Monday, sided with Phillips, finding that Starbucks had fired her because she was white, which violated her civil rights under both federal and New Jersey anti-discrimination law.

The verdict includes $25 million in punitive damages and $600,000 in compensatory damages. A judge will later decide on the amount of economic damages that could include a loss of pay.

“We are very grateful for the jury’s attentiveness and work in listening to all of the evidence presented in court in this case,” Laura Mattiacci, an attorney for Phillips, said in a statement.

Starbucks did not respond to a request for comments on the verdict.

The case stemmed from a widely publicized incident that took place on April 12, 2018, at a Starbucks in Philadelphia’s affluent Rittenhouse Square neighborhood.

Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, both 23 at that time, were asked to leave the coffee shop after sitting at a table without ordering anything. Although the two explained that they were waiting for a business associate, they ended up being escorted out of the coffee shop in handcuffs after a store manager called the police on them for alleged disturbance and trespassing.

The video of the arrest, released by Philadelphia police, became widely circulated on social media, sparking protests and even vandalism against the store in the months following the controversy.

In May 2018, Robinson and Rashon Nelson agreed to a settlement with Starbucks for an undisclosed sum, as well as an offer of free college tuition to complete bachelor’s degrees through an online program with Arizona State University that was created for Starbucks employees.

In a separate deal, each of the pair received a symbolic $1 compensation from the City of Philadelphia, in addition to a promise from officials to invest $200,000 into an entrepreneurship program for public high school students.

Starbucks’ then-chief executive Kevin Johnson, also went to Philadelphia to apologize for the incident and thank Robinson and Nelson “for their willingness to reconcile.”

“Starbucks will continue to take actions that stem from this incident to repair and reaffirm our values and vision for the kind of company we want to be,” Johnson said. He also ordered 8,000 stores across the country for an afternoon to conduct “racial-bias education geared toward preventing discrimination.”

Phillips, who at that time oversaw operations in Southern New Jersey, the Philadelphia region, Delaware, and parts of Maryland, had helped Starbucks to handle the public relation crisis. According to her lawsuit, she worked to keep stores in her area safe and make sure employees returned to work at stores where customers were too afraid to come during protests.

After a settlement was reached with Robinson and Nelson, however, Phillips claimed that a black supervisor told her to place one of her district managers, a white man named Ben Trinsey, on administrative leave for allegedly paying non-white employees less than their white coworkers. Trinsey oversaw stores in Philadelphia, not including the location where the high-profile arrest occurred.

Phillips opposed the white manager’s suspension because “Trinsey could not have any input on employee salaries” due to Starbucks’ internal policies. She was fired the next day, allegedly told nothing except that “the situation is not recoverable.”

In 2019, Starbucks denied the claims in Phillips’ lawsuit. Johnson stepped down in March 2022 after five years of leading the coffee chain.

From The Epoch Times

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