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15th Jun 2023

White Starbucks manager wins $25m payout after staff refused bathroom access to two black men

Steve Hopkins

The chain was accused of wrongful termination and of unfairly punishing white employees

Starbucks has been ordered to pay a white ex-employee $25.6m (£20.2m) in a racial discrimination case that involved two black men being removed from a franchise.

Shannon Phillips, a former manager, was fired after Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested at a Starbucks Philadelphia branch in 2018 in an incident that sparked widespread outrage. It was caught on video and led to protests, as well as the franchise closing all of its 8,000 stores in the US for a day to hold anti-bias training for workers.

While Phillips lost her job, a black colleague kept his.

According to a report by CBS, a jury ruled race was a factor in Phillips’ sacking, violating anti-discrimination laws.

A federal jury in New Jersey found that Starbucks had violated Phillips’s federal civil rights, as well as a New Jersey law that prohibits discrimination based on race.

She was awarded $600,000 in compensatory damages and $25m in punitive damages.

The incident that sparked the case happened at a Starbucks branch in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square, when one of the men was denied permission to use the toilet as he was yet to buy anything.

Nelson and Robinson had told Starbucks staff that they were waiting for a third person to join them for a business meeting and had sat at a table before ordering.

When one of the pair asked to use the bathroom, an employee said no.

Nelson and Robinson were then asked if they needed anything, and when they replied that they were waiting for someone, they were asked to leave.

When they declined, police arrived.

The pair were then handcuffed and escorted out of the business in an incident that sparked calls to boycott Starbucks for racism.

Democratic mayor Jim Kenney suggested the incident was what “racial discrimination looks like in 2018”.

Regional manager Phillips – who looked after around 100 Starbucks stores in Philadelphia, as well as Delaware, Maryland and South Jersey at the time -was fired while the manager of the shop where the incident took place, who was black, kept his job, CBS reported.

In 2019, Phillips sued Starbucks, accusing them of wrongful termination and of unfairly punishing white employees.

Her lawyers argued that the upper management of Starbucks were “looking for a ‘scapegoat’ to terminate to show action was being taken”, CBS reported.

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