In a significant legal victory, a federal court jury has awarded $25.6 million to Shannon Phillips, a former Starbucks regional manager.
Phillips claimed that she and other white employees were subjected to unfair treatment following the highly publicized arrests of two Black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks location in 2018.
The jury, based in New Jersey, found that race was a decisive factor in Phillips’ firing, thereby violating federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
The incident in question occurred in April 2018 when a store manager in Philadelphia called the police on two Black men who were sitting in a coffee shop without making a purchase.
At the time, Shannon Phillips held the position of regional manager of operations in Philadelphia, southern New Jersey, and other areas, but she had no direct involvement in the arrests.
Nevertheless, as stated in her legal complaint, she received directions to suspend an unrelated white manager from work, despite their lack of involvement, based on grounds she perceived to be untrue.
Phillips asserted that she was subsequently terminated less than a month later for objecting to the baseless suspension. The lawsuit alleged that Starbucks sought to “punish white employees” in an attempt to portray a proper response to the incident and appease the community.
During the closing arguments of the trial, Laura Mattiacci, Phillips’ attorney, contended that the company was seeking a “sacrificial lamb” to placate public outrage and demonstrate action.
Mattiacci emphasized that selecting a Black employee for this purpose would have backfired. Starbucks, on the other hand, denied Phillips’ allegations, asserting that they needed a manager with a proven track record of strength and resolution during crises.
They replaced Phillips with a regional manager who had experience dealing with the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
To support her case, Phillips’ attorney referred to earlier testimony from a Black district manager, responsible for the store where the arrests occurred, who described Phillips as highly regarded by her colleagues.
The district manager further highlighted Phillips’ dedication, as she tirelessly worked around the clock following the arrests.
Following the jury’s decision, Shannon Phillips was awarded $600,000 in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. Her attorney, Laura Mattiacci, confirmed the award amount and indicated that they would seek additional compensation for lost pay, future pay, and attorney’s fees.
Mattiacci stated that she plans to request around $3 million for lost wages and approximately $1 million in attorney’s fees.
Former Starbucks Manager Receives $25.6 Million Settlement
The incident involving the arrests of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson at the Philadelphia Starbucks location in April 2018 sparked nationwide outrage.
The video footage of the arrests circulated widely, prompting Starbucks’ CEO at the time to issue a personal apology to the two men.
The company subsequently reached a settlement with Nelson and Robinson, the details of which were undisclosed, and offered them free college education. Starbucks also implemented policy changes and temporarily closed its stores nationwide for racial bias training.
In addition to the settlement with Starbucks, the two men reached a symbolic agreement with the city of Philadelphia, receiving $1 each and a commitment from officials to establish a $200,000 program to support young entrepreneurs.
The Philadelphia Police Department also revised its policy on how to handle individuals accused of trespassing on private property, cautioning businesses against misusing the authority of police officers.
The outcome of Shannon Phillips’ lawsuit against Starbucks serves as a significant reminder that companies must be diligent in addressing allegations of discrimination and ensuring fair treatment for all employees.
This case underscores the importance of adhering to anti-discrimination laws and taking proactive steps to create an inclusive and equitable work environment.
In conclusion, the verdict in Shannon Phillips’ case against Starbucks reinforces the importance of upholding anti-discrimination laws and creating workplaces where all employees are treated fairly and equitably.
It serves as a powerful reminder that the fight against discrimination is ongoing and that companies must remain vigilant in their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and equality.