A former Starbucks employee has won £28.3m (£22.2m) after claiming she was sacked for being white.
Shannon Philips, who worked as a regional director at the coffee franchise branch in Philadelphia, sued the company for wrongful termination, citing racial discrimination.
The jury had ruled in favour of Philips with a verdict of $25.6m (£20.1m) but was later awarded a further £2.1m ($2.7m).
Philips’ employment was terminated following an altercation whereby two Black men were arrested at a Starbucks in Philadelphia in 2018.
Reportedly, the men, who said they were waiting for a business associate, were asked to leave the coffee branch for sitting at a table without ordering anything. After they refused to leave, the store manager called the police, and the two men were escorted out of the shop and handcuffed.
The event sparked outrage, with some Philadelphia citizens staging protests which shut down the branch temporarily.
According to the lawsuit filed in 2019, Philips was not involved in the arrests of the two men in 2018.
A PR nightmare
The 2018 arrest of the two men became a PR nightmare for Starbucks, who reportedly took multiple steps to damage control and prevent a similar incident from happening again.
This included the temporary closing down of 8000 stores for compulsory anti-bias training and changes in its policy to allow non-customers to use Starbucks restrooms and spend time in stores, even if they haven’t made a purchase.
But Philips said that Starbucks also “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,” according to the lawsuit.
As part of these efforts, Philips said that Starbucks told her to place a White staff member on leave for supposed ‘discriminatory conduct’, something Philips said was untrue. After disputing this allegation Philips’ employment was terminated, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit complaint argued that the fact that Philips is White “was a motivating and/or determinative factor in (Starbucks’) discriminatory treatment.”
But Starbucks denies the claims are true, saying that Philips demonstrated a lack of “strong leadership” at the time and “lacked awareness of how critical the situation had become”. The court filing read: “Senior leaders and members of Partner Resources all observed Ms. Phillips demonstrate a complete absence of leadership during this crisis.”