A former regional manager for Starbucks filed a lawsuit Monday against the coffee giant, arguing that she was fired from her position because she is white following the arrests of two black men in a Philadelphia store last year.
According to a lawsuit obtained by CBS3, Shannon Phillips claims she was unjustly terminated less than a month after the men were arrested in April 2018 for sitting in a Starbucks without making a purchase. A Starbucks manager reportedly called police alleging that the young men were trespassing and refused to leave the establishment. The men, however, said they were there for a business meeting and were waiting for a third person. Nevertheless, they were escorted out of the store in handcuffs and video footage of the incident triggered a firestorm of controversy from critics who claimed the African American men were targeted because of their race.
In response to the incident, Starbucks dropped charges against the men, released a public apology, and closed its more than 8,000 locations so that employees could receive racial sensitivity training.
Weeks later, Phillips says she was mandated by superiors to suspend a white Starbucks manager who had no involvement with the incident or the store where arrests took place. She objected and was then fired the next day so that the company would appear like it was trying to rectify the situation.
According to a report from NBC News:
Phillips says in her lawsuit that after the arrests she “immediately took steps to learn additional information about the events … address strong community reaction” and “ensure the safety” of Starbucks’ employees and customers.
She also “took steps to ensure that the retail locations within her area were a safe and welcoming environment for all customers, regardless of race,” the suit says.
About a month after the arrests, Phillips was ordered to suspend one of her subordinates, a white 15-year employee, who was a Starbucks manager but had nothing to do with the arrests or the store where they occurred, the suit says. The manager who was responsible for the store, who is black, was not penalized.
Her bosses told her that nonwhite employees at the store whose manager they wanted her to suspend had been paid less than white employees. Phillips objected, pointing out that store managers have nothing to do with determining salaries, which are set by a different division of the company, according to the lawsuit.
The next day, Phillips was fired, with managers telling her “the situation is not recoverable.”
Phillips claims in the suit that she regularly “received positive performance evaluations and related merit driven bonuses and salary increases.” She says she would still have her job if she were not white.
Phillips is seeking a jury trial along with compensatory and punitive damages.
Meanwhile, Starbucks officials have rejected her claims. “We deny the claims of the lawsuit and are prepared to defend our case in court,” a spokesperson told CBS3.