This episode sent a crisis to one of the most popular brands in America.
In April 2018, two black men entered a Starbucks store in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia for a business meeting with a white man who had not yet arrived. While they were waiting and before ordering, one of them asked to use the bathroom. was rejected. In the end, they were asked to leave. When they didn’t, one of the employees called the police.
The subsequent arrests, captured in videos that have been viewed millions of times online, have prompted accusations of racism, protests and threats of boycotts. The company’s CEO publicly apologized, calling the way the men were treated “reprehensible”. Starbucks has taken the unusual step of temporarily closing 8,000 stores to teach workers about racial bias.
On Monday, in a surprising development, a New Jersey federal jury ordered Starbucks to pay $25.6 million to a former regional manager after deciding the company fired her amid the fallout from the Rittenhouse Square episode because she was white.
The jury found that Starbucks violated the federal civil rights of the former manager, Shannon Phillips, as well as New Jersey law prohibiting discrimination based on race, and awarded it $600,000 in damages and $25 million in punitive damages.
Phillips’ attorney, Laura Carlin Mattiacci, said she and her client are “very pleased” with the unanimous ruling, adding that she has “established by “clear and convincing evidence” that punitive damages are justified” under New Jersey law.
A Starbucks spokeswoman declined to comment.
At the time of the episode, Ms. Phillips oversaw about 100 stores in Philadelphia, South Jersey, Delaware, and parts of Maryland. She was promoted to the job in 2011 after what she calls “exemplary performance” during six years as district manager in Ohio.
In the lawsuit, Ms. Phillips said that Starbucks, as part of its efforts to limit damages after the arrests, sought to punish other white employees in and around Philadelphia even if they were not involved in the events that led to the police. called it.
Ms. Phillips said she threw herself into the company’s efforts to restore its credibility and sought to support hourly workers, organize managers in stores and cover employees who were afraid of running a group of protesters.
Amid the image-polishing campaign, Ms. Phillips said one of her bosses, a black woman, asked her to suspend a white manager who had overseen stores in Philadelphia, albeit not the one in Rittenhouse Square, over allegations he engaged in discriminatory actions. Conduct – allegations Ms Phillips said she knew were untrue.
In contrast, Ms. Phillips said, no action was taken against the manager who oversaw the Rittenhouse Square store, a black man who Ms. Phillips said promoted the employee who called the police.
Ms. Phillips said she was fired shortly after she refused the white manager’s suspension order. She said she had not been told previously that she was doing a bad job and that the only explanation she gave for the firing was that “the situation could not be fixed.”
Starbucks denied in court filings that Ms. Phillips was fired because she was white and said she left because she did poorly in responding to the incident that led to the arrests.
“During this time of crisis,” a Starbucks attorney wrote in a lawsuit, “the Philadelphia market needed a leader who could perform,” adding that “Ms. Phillips failed in every aspect of this role.”
Starbucks ultimately chose not to press charges against the men at the center of the episode, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, both 23-year-olds. Before suing over the ordeal, they reached a confidential financial settlement with the company and obtained a commitment from the City of Philadelphia to invest $200,000 to help the young entrepreneurs.
“I want to make sure this situation doesn’t happen again,” Mr. Robinson said in an interview at the time. “What I want is for young people not to be traumatized by this, and instead be motivated and inspired.”
Efforts to reach Mr. Robinson and Mr. Nelson on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
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