Former Starbucks manager awarded $25.6m over firing following arrests of 2 Black men

(Photo by DON EMMERT/AFP via Getty Images)

OAN’s Brooke Mallory
4:46 PM – Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Federal jurors awarded $25.6 million to a former Starbucks regional manager who claimed she and other employees were unfairly penalized following the high-profile arrests of two Black men at a Starbucks location in Philadelphia in 2018.


Shannon Phillips was awarded $600,000 in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages on Monday, after a New Jersey jury determined that race was a factor in Phillips’ termination, which is in violation of federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

In April 2018, a store manager reportedly named Holly Hylton contacted Philadelphia police regarding two Black men who had been sitting at the coffee shop without purchasing anything. Phillips, who was the regional manager of operations in Philadelphia, southern New Jersey, and elsewhere at the time, had nothing to do with the arrests. However, she claimed that she was told to put a White manager, who was not even involved, on administrative leave for reasons that she knew were false.

According to her lawsuit, Phillips was then fired less than a month later after objecting to the manager being placed on leave during the incident.

The company’s purported justification for suspending the district manager, who was not in charge of the shop where the arrests occurred, was because of an accusation that Black store managers were paid less than White managers. That argument, according to Phillips, made no sense because district managers had no say over employee wages.

Starbucks was allegedly taking steps to “punish white employees” who worked in the area “in an effort to convince the community that it had properly responded to the incident,” the lawsuit claims.

Phillips’ lawyer, Laura Mattiacci, told jurors during closing arguments on Friday that the business was seeking a “sacrificial lamb” to appease the uproar and demonstrate that it was taking action, according to Law360.

Choosing a Black employee for such a purpose “would have blown up in their faces,” she explained.

Starbucks refuted Phillips’ charges, claiming that the company required someone with “strength and resolution” during a crisis and replaced her with a regional manager who had that kind of expertise, including handling the aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

Phillips’ counsel, on the other hand, highlighted prior evidence from a Black district manager in charge of the shop where the arrests occurred, who portrayed Phillips as someone adored by her colleagues and who worked around the clock following the arrests.

Mattiacci verified the judgment amount in an email to media sources, adding that the judge will consider past pay and future compensation, as well as attorney’s expenses. According to the New Jersey Law Journal, she will demand around $3 million in lost wages and approximately $1 million in fees.

Starbucks declined to comment.

The incident involved two Black men named Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson who were arrested in a Starbucks coffee shop near Philadelphia’s affluent Rittenhouse Square in April 2018, after the manager called police to report that two males were refusing to make a purchase or leave the premises. They were eventually freed without being charged.

The arrest video sparked widespread outrage, prompting Starbucks’ current CEO to personally apologize to the men. The corporation eventually struck an undisclosed financial settlement with both men, as well as an offer to pay their college tuition.

In addition, the firm modified store regulations and shuttered sites throughout the country for an afternoon to do racial bias training.

They also struck a deal with the city of Philadelphia for a symbolic $1 apiece, with authorities promising to set up a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs. The Philadelphia Police Department implemented a new guideline on how to deal with anyone suspected of trespassing on private property, advising companies against abusing police officers’ authority.

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