In a federal court in New Jersey, a former regional Starbucks manager, Shannon Phillips, won a $25.6 million lawsuit against the coffee chain, alleging that she and other white employees were unfairly punished due to the 2018 arrest of two black men.
The jury awarded her $600,000 in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. The decision came after eight members of the jury took five hours to deliberate the matter. The jury determined that Phillips was fired based on her race, which is against federal and state anti-discrimination laws.
Philips, who was the operations manager for Philadelphia, southern New Jersey, and other locations, did not have any involvement with the 2018 incident.
A store manager in Philadelphia had called the police on the two black men who had been sitting in the coffee shop without ordering. Despite not being involved, Phillips lost her job in less than a month for speaking out about another white manager being put on leave during the events.
According to her lawsuit, the company’s reason for suspending the district manager, not responsible for the coffee shop where the arrests took place, was that black store managers received lower salaries than their white counterparts.
Phillips, however, argued that district managers had no responsibility for employee salaries, making such an argument illogical. Her lawsuit claimed that Starbucks penalized employees unfairly based on skin color.
Phillips claimed that Starbucks was taking steps to punish ‘white employees who had not been involved in the arrests, but who worked in and around the city of Philadelphia,’ to make it appear that the company had responded adequately to the incident.
During closing arguments, Phillips’ attorney, Laura Mattiacci, claimed that the company was searching for a ‘sacrificial lamb’ to calm the public outrage and demonstrate that it was taking steps in response to the situation. She argued that the decision to fire Phillips was based solely on race.
Starbucks denied the accusations presented in the lawsuit, stating that it was necessary to find someone with a track record of ‘strength and resolution’ in a crisis. The company replaced Phillips with a regional manager who had experience dealing with the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.
Mattiacci questioned Starbucks’ reasoning, citing testimony from a black district manager, who was in charge of the store where the arrests took place, describing Phillips as respected and working tremendously in the wake of the arrests.
Phillips’ attorney confirmed that the judge would determine whether Phillips would receive back pay, future pay, and attorney’s fees. Mattiacci stated that she would seek approximately $3 million for lost pay and roughly $1 million for the attorney’s fee application.
Starbucks has declined to comment on the matter since the jury’s decision. If a black employee had been selected as the ‘sacrificial lamb,’ the company would likely have received backlash from the community.
The arrest of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson in a Starbucks coffee shop in Philadelphia, located near Rittenhouse Square, prompted the incident. The store manager called the police to report that the two men were refusing to either make a purchase or leave the premises.
However, they were taken into custody and later released without any charges against them. Eventually, the city of Philadelphia and the two men agreed on a symbolic settlement of $1 each. The incident forced Philadelphia police to create a policy that would prevent private businesses from misusing the authority of police officers.
The decision of the jury to award Phillips $25.6 million has sparked varying reactions, with some applauding it, while others criticize it. A conservative view on the issue is paramount, focusing primarily on the facts surrounding the case.
The jury decided that Phillips was fired because of her race, which is a direct violation of anti-discrimination laws, and should be held accountable for their actions. Starbucks’ response has been to replace Phillips with a manager with more experience in a crisis but has yet to provide a viable explanation to dispel the accusations of discrimination raised in the lawsuit.
Others believe that the decision is part of a broader political agenda of raising so-called ‘racial awareness,’ dividing people, and fueling racial tensions. Such perspectives may view the case in support of a specific agenda, but the facts remain undeniable.
The lawsuit alleged that Starbucks punished employees unfairly based solely on their skin color, a practice that is unacceptable.
The potential ramifications of the lawsuit could affect how employers deal with diversity and inclusion in their workplaces. As diversity and inclusion continue to be an increasingly important topic in the workforce, companies must remain mindful of ensuring that they have policies and procedures that genuinely promote equality and fair treatment for all employees.
Any deviation from such a policy, regardless of how it may appear, violates the law.
However, Starbucks has been attempting to counter the accusations through a series of policy changes and initiatives.
For instance, the company has instituted a ‘Third Place Policy,’ which involves providing signs indicating that people can use restrooms without purchasing anything. Additionally, all Starbucks managers are now required to attend racial bias training.
The racial bias training that Starbucks introduced drew mixed reactions. Some employees found it useful and informative, while others criticized the policy, believing that it did little to resolve the underlying issue.
Such controversies and opposition to the racial diversity initiatives underway comment on broader social issues and political views.
It is crucial to acknowledge that accusations of discrimination or unfair treatment in the workplace cannot be viewed through a singular lens. The issue is complex, with various factors bearing significance to comprehend the context and arrive at a just resolution.
The importance of organizations committing themselves to antiracism policies and practices cannot be underestimated. Antiracism policies include fair labor practices, equitable employment opportunities, and equal education practices.
Antiracism initiatives typically promote policies and practices that function to eliminate policies that contribute to or promulgate racism.
Antiracism policies ensure transparency, accountability, and promote healthy working environments. They are essential in denying perpetrators of discrimination and harassment an opportunity to use their power or positions to perpetrate and cover up their actions.
More organizations need to exercise antiracism policies and practices in their workplaces to address racism and discrimination. Businesses that aim to ensure their employees work with dignity, respect, and fairness need to put antiracism policies and practices at the forefront.
Phillips’ lawsuit against Starbucks should be taken seriously as it highlights the importance of ensuring equal treatment of employees, irrespective of their skin color.
In the coming years, we hope to see companies take diversity and inclusion seriously and ensure that they reinforce policies and training to prevent such incidents from occurring.
The discourse surrounding diversity, antiracism policies, and inclusion should not be relegated to the fringes of society. Instead, leaders and organizations in the corporate world should take it upon themselves to promote and ensure they practice diversity and inclusion, through setting up relevant policies and practices, such as antiracism policies and training initiatives.
Through such measures, we can hope to see a society that promotes equality, dignity, and fair treatment in all aspects.
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