A former regional manager for Starbucks is accusing the coffee giant of discriminating against white employees after the widely publicized arrests of two Black men at a Philadelphia store last year.
Shannon Phillips, who oversaw a number of Starbucks locations across Southern New Jersey, Delaware, parts of Maryland and the Philly region, claims she was fired less than a month after the incident gained national attention. Now, she’s planning to roast the coffeehouse in court.
In a federal suit filed Monday, Phillips claims Starbucks “took steps to punish white employees who had not been involved in the arrests” of business partners Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson, who were led away in handcuffs from the Philadelphia coffeehouse in April 2018 after a store manager called police to report they were trespassing.
The young men, both 23, were inside waiting for a friend when they were denied use of the restroom by a manager who allegedly told them to “make a purchase or leave.” When they refused, she dialed 911.
The incident, captured by a bystander and posted online, sparked national outcry and claims of racial profiling. Starbucks did serious damage control after the arrests went viral, with company CEO Kevin Johnson traveling to Philly to apologize to the young men.
The parties later reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount and an offer for a free college education. Starbucks also shuttered more than 8,000 stores across the U.S. for a day so that employees could undergo racial bias training.
Phillips, a 13-year employee for the coffee brand, insists her race was a “motivating” or “determining” factor for her firing after the arrests last year. She further alleges in her suit that Starbucks pressured her to fire another white manager who had nothing to do with the incident at the Philly store, but was accused of paying white employees more than non-white ones.
Phillips objected, telling the company’s execs that she had never seen the manager exhibit discriminatory behavior and that he had no control over how much employees were paid. Her complaint also notes that Starbucks took no action against the district manager of the Philadelphia store, who’s African-American.
Phillips accuses her former employer of bringing down the hammer on white employees in order to “convince the community that it had properly responded to the (arrest) incident.” When she pushed back on those efforts, she was fired by managers who told her “the situation is not recoverable.”
Phillips says the alleged “discriminatory acts” by Starbucks have caused her “irreparable injury and monetary damages” and her suit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
A Starbucks spokesman responded to the complaint this week, saying “we deny the claims in the lawsuit and are fully prepared to present our case in court.”