Starbucks is smarting after a federal jury punished the coffee giant for being racist. The twist is that the determination was that the Seattle-based cafe was racist against a white womanemployee and treated her unfairly.
Shannon Phillips won $600,000 in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages on Monday after a jury in New Jersey found that race was a determinative factor in Phillips’ firing, in violation of federal and state anti-discrimination, according to The Washington Post.
In April 2018, a Philadelphia store manager called police on two Black men who were sitting in the coffee shop without ordering anything. Phillips, then regional manager of operations in Philadelphia, southern New Jersey, and elsewhere, was not involved with arrests. However, she said she was ordered to put a white manager who also wasn’t involved on administrative leave for reasons she knew were false, according to her lawsuit.
Phillips said she was fired less than a month later after objecting to the manager being placed on leave amid the uproar, according to her lawsuit.
The company’s rationale for suspending the district manager, who was not responsible for the store where the arrests took place, was an allegation that Black store managers were being paid less than white managers, according to the lawsuit. Phillips said that argument made no sense since district managers had no input on employee salaries.
The lawsuit alleged Starbucks was instead 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.”
Phillips’ attorney, Laura Mattiacci, told jurors in closing her arguments that the company was looking for a “sacrificial lamb” to show it was taking action after the arrests, Law360 reported. She reminded jurors of the testimony of district manager Paul Sykes, who is Black and reported to Phillips.
Sykes recalled that Robinson was beloved by her colleagues and that her sudden termination was likely due to the color of her skin.
“This was all about the appearances, the optics of what they did,” Mattiacci said, according to Law360. “If Shannon Phillips is Black, does it play out like this? This case is about Starbucks and self-preservation.”