Fired White Starbucks Manager Wins $25M Lawsuit-Fired for Her Race

A white Starbucks manager who was fired when her staff refused to let two black men use the bathroom at a Philadelphia location has been awarded $25.6 million in a lawsuit alleging that she was fired over her race.



Former manager Shannon Phillips won her lawsuit against the coffee titan on Monday after a federal jury in New Jersey found the company had fired her because she was white, violating her civil rights. Phillips was handed $25 million in punitive damages and $600,000 in compensatory damages.

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The lawsuit ended this week, five years after the inciting incident: the arrest of two black men at the Starbucks in Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia. The two men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were waiting for a meeting when they were refused access to the toilet due to not purchasing anything and were asked to leave before cops were called.

Cell phone footage of the arrests went viral after it showed Mr. Nelson and Mr. Robinson being arrested inside the store after they sat without ordering anything. Their arrests sparked outrage and protests from some, who accused Starbucks of racism and threatened boycotts.

This prompted the coffee chain to temporarily close 8,000 locations so the company’s 175,000 employees could undergo racial-bias training. According to the lawsuit, Phillips said she worked “tirelessly” to help repair community relations after the controversy.

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Nevertheless, Phillips, who oversaw the location and about 100 others, was quickly fired. But in 2019, instead of taking a  $200,000 severance, she sued the coffee chain claiming her firing was due to racial bias.

Phillips claims Starbucks started punishing white employees who weren’t involved in the incident weeks later to publicly prove they were responding to the incident and win back public approval. Phillips alleges Starbucks ordered her to put a white male manager, who had worked for the company for 15 years, on administrative leave because of one race discrimination allegation against him.

The allegation stemmed from complaints the non-white employees at that manager’s store were paid less than white workers. However, Phillips argued the male manager didn’t have a say in wages and couldn’t have engaged in such discrimination if he wanted to. Phillips also objected to this suspension because he wasn’t racist, and she had never seen him exhibit discriminatory behavior. After objecting, Phillips claims she was fired and told that the “situation is not recoverable.”

In comparison, the black manager of the store where the arrests were carried out did not face any disciplinary action. Phillips said the black manager’s subordinate was the one who called 911 after the two men sat down and refused to leave after being told they couldn’t use the bathroom without purchasing something.

This policy of clearly unequal treatment was the basis for Phillips’s successful lawsuit.


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