A New Jersey federal jury has awarded $25.6 million to a former white Starbucks manager, Shannon Phillips, who was fired in 2018 after the widely publicized arrests of two Black men at a Philadelphia location captured on video.
Phillips was blamed for the arrest of two Black men who failed to make a transaction at the coffee chain in Philly and refused to leave. They were not charged with anything, but the incident was record and published on social media.
Laura C. Mattiacci, Phillips’ attorney, stated that her client was used as a “scapegoat” by Starbucks to “show action being taken” in the aftermath of the event, according to Law360.
After protests and customer boycotts followed their arrests, the outrage led to Starbuck to take accountiblity for the racist accusations, firing Phillips, The Philedephia Inquire reported.
The South New Jersey jurors in the Camden courtroom determined in six days that Starbucks had violated former manager’s federal civil rights, and Phillips of Woolwich Township was awarded more than $25 million in punitive damages and $600,000 in compensatory damages, concluding that the coffee giant fired Phillips amid backlash for the incident at the 18th and Spruce Streets.
Phillips, a Starbucks employee for nearly 13 years who handled shop operations in southern New Jersey, Philadelphia, Delaware, and sections of Maryland, was accused of having nothing to do with the men’s arrests, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in 2019.
Rather, the lawsuit claimed Phillips was fired less than a month after the viral encounter because she objected to the white district manager at the Spruce Street location being placed on administrative leave for allegedly paying Black workers less than white counterparts — claims Phillips claimed she knew were false.
According to Phillips’ lawsuit, Starbucks refused to sanction a Black district manager who oversaw the Spruce Street location where the arrest occurred, while suspending and subsequently firing a white Philadelphia district manager. According to Law360, Paul Sykes, the Black district manager who oversaw the Spruce Street shop, told the jury that Phillips was a well-liked manager who worked relentlessly following the arrests.
Starbucks lawyers said in court filings that Phillips was fired not because of her race, but because she “failed to lead” her staff by remaining silent following the men’s arrests and subsequent backlash.
“During this time of crisis, Starbucks’ Philadelphia market required a capable leader,” stated the company’s lawyers. “Ms. Phillips failed in every aspect of her role.”
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, both Black men were 23 at the time, waited in the Rittenhouse Square Starbucks, waiting to meet with a business associate.
Nelson claimed that when he wanted to use the restroom without first making a purchase, he was refused since he was not a customer, and that a manager asked his and Robinson to leave the store.
When they did not, a store clerk dialed 911.
The cops arrived and handcuffed the guys and lead them out of the store. The incident was recorded and seen millions of times on a no-longer-public viral Twitter video, triggering outrage, roundtable conversations about racism in retail, protests, and a media firestorm.
Nelson and Robinson were not charged.