A federal judge in Pennsylvania has ruled Starbucks must pay a former Philadelphia-area manager an additional $2.7 million in damages after a jury agreed with her claim that she was wrongly fired for being white in the aftermath of a 2018 incident where the coffee chain was accused of racial bias.
Former Starbucks regional manager Shannon Phillips claims she became a scapegoat in the wake of the controversy in April 2018 when police arrested two Black men in a Rittenhouse Square Starbucks in Philadelphia because they refused to leave the store after being told they could not sit inside without buying anything. A cellphone video of the arrests went viral, leading to a national backlash against the coffee store chain.
Starbucks leadership responded with nationwide racial bias training for over 175,000 company employees. Then-CEO at the time Kevin Johnson, also issued an apology.
In May 2018, Starbucks further followed up with a new policy, making it so even non-paying guests can sit in stores and use its restrooms. Philadelphia police also announced a new policy laying out procedures for officers to arrest a person accused of trespassing on private property.
The two arrested men, young entrepreneurs Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson (23 at the time), were released from custody and reached an agreement with the state of Philadelphia, granted $200,000 to help them in their business venture.
Phillips was fired from Starbucks in what she felt was nothing more than a scapegoat tactic to allow Starbucks to appear as if things were being done about the situation. She believed that as regional manager, she had nothing to do with the arrests of the Black men at the 18th and Spruce Street store.
The 12-year-veteran of the company, who oversaw operations at Starbucks stores in four states, told jurors during the civil trial that she was let go the month following the Philadelphia incident after refusing to discipline a district manager over claims bias that she knew were untrue.
Starbucks argued that Phillips was let go due to a failure in leadership after arrests rather than anything to do with her race.
In 2019 she sued Starbucks and was initially awarded $25.6 million in damages in June 2023. Jurors concluded that Shannon was fired because she was white, violating federal and state anti-discrimination laws. And now, U.S. District Judge Joel H. Slomsky has ordered Starbucks to pay Phillips — who earned $289,000 a year with the company — an additional $2,736,755 in wage and tax damages.