A white Starbucks manager, Shannon Phillips, has emerged victorious in her lawsuit against the “woke” coffee giant, Starbucks, resulting in a substantial $25.6 million verdict. A federal jury in New Jersey concluded that Phillips’ civil rights were violated when she was wrongfully terminated on the grounds of her race. The lawsuit concluded on Monday, five years after the high-profile arrests of two black men at the Starbucks store she managed in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia.
In 2018, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, who were awaiting a meeting were denied access to the restroom by Starbucks staff and subsequently asked to leave before law enforcement was called. The viral cell phone footage showed Nelson and Robinson being detained inside the store for sitting without making a purchase. The incident ignited protests and allegations of racism against Starbucks, and prompted boycott threats. In turn, the former Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson to traveled to Philadelphia to personally apologize to the men and closed over 8,000 locations in order to make its 175,000 employees undergo racial bias training.
Phillips, who oversaw over 100 Starbucks locations as a regional manager, including the one in question, was awarded $25 million in punitive damages, and $600,000 in compensatory damages.
In her lawsuit, filed in 2019, Phillips who had dedicated 13 years to Starbucks, maintained that she bore no responsibility for the arrests but was unjustly terminated a month later. Phillips asserted that she worked “tirelessly” to mend community relations in the aftermath of the controversy, alleging that Starbucks began punishing white employees who were not involved in the incident in a public relations effort.
The lawsuit alleged that the company:
…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.
The lawsuit revealed that Phillips was instructed by the company to place a long-standing white male manager on administrative leave due to a race discrimination allegation. The accusation stemmed from complaints regarding wage disparities between non-white and white employees at the manager’s store. Phillips contested this decision, highlighting the manager’s lack of authority over wages and maintaining that she had never witnessed any discriminatory behavior from him. In contrast, Phillips pointed out that the black manager at the store where the arrests occurred faced no disciplinary action, despite one of their subordinates calling 911 after the two men refused to leave.
The two men involved in the incident reached a settlement with Starbucks, of which the details remain undisclosed. They also secured a symbolic $1 settlement from the city and a promise to establish a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs. Nelson and Robinson believe that this resolution will contribute to the long-term change they hoped to see. No charges were filed after the arrests. The incident served as a major embarrassment for Starbucks, a company that has cultivated an image of progressive cultural virtue signaling.
Phillips’ lawyer, Laura Carlin Mattiacci, said that they were “very pleased,” with the jury’s unanimous verdict, pointing to the “clear and convincing evidence that punitive damages were warranted” under New Jersey law. Phillips is expected to additionally seek back pay and forward pay.
A spokesperson for Starbucks Jaci Anderson said the company is disappointed in the decision and is evaluating its next steps. Starbucks has changed its policy to allow people to use Starbucks’ restrooms and remain in stores, even if they haven’t made a purchase.