Pennsylvania Record

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Ex-regional director for Starbucks says company discriminated against white employees after black customers were arrested

Federal Court

By Nicholas Malfitano | Nov 6, 2019

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TRENTON, N.J. – A former regional director for Starbucks is suing the company, claiming it discriminated against her and other Caucasian employees in the aftermath of the controversial arrests of two African-American men at a Philadelphia store location.

On Oct. 28, plaintiff Shannon Phillips of Woolwich Township, N.J. filed suit against the Seattle-based coffee giant in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.

In April 2018, store customers Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson were asked to leave a Starbucks coffee shop in Philadelphia after sitting at a table without ordering anything. The men, who did not leave because they were waiting for a business associate, were escorted out of the coffee shop in handcuffs after a store manager called police on them.

Robinson and Nelson later reached settlement agreements with both Starbucks and the City of Philadelphia, which included Starbucks undergoing company-wide racial sensitivity training.

Prior to her being let go, Phillips was charged with overseeing Starbucks stores in southern New Jersey, the Philadelphia area, Delaware and parts of Maryland. Two of her subordinates included district managers who oversaw stores in Philadelphia, one of whom included the district manager responsible for the store where Robinson and Nelson were arrested.

In the aftermath of the incident, Phillips claimed she worked to repair community relations after the arrests, but that “Starbucks took steps to punish white employees who weren’t involved in the incident.”

After Starbucks settled with Robinson and Nelson in early May, Phillips alleges she was asked to put one of her district managers, a Caucasian male, on suspension for allegedly paying non-white employees less than their white counterparts.

Phillip’s lawsuit says that was “factually impossible” because district managers did not have the power to set salaried employee compensation, due to Starbucks’ own internal company policies and procedures.

Phillips’ lawsuit states that the Caucasian male district manager in question had worked for Starbucks for 15 years, and that she had never observed any racially discriminatory comments or conduct from him.

In the lawsuit, Phillips says that same district manager was not responsible for the store where Robinson and Nelson were arrested and had no connection to that incident, but that an African-American district manager who did oversee that store was neither fired nor placed on suspension.

On May 8, 2018, Phillips says she was told she would be fired due to her “situation not being recoverable,” according to her lawsuit. She alleges she was replaced by “substantially less-qualified employees who had not complained of race discrimination.”

A spokesperson for Starbucks denied the claims of Phillips’ lawsuit and said the company is prepared to defend against them in court.

The plaintiff is seeking an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages, in addition to legal fees and a declaration from the court that Starbucks violated her civil rights through unlawful employment discrimination.

The plaintiff is represented by Katherine Charbonnier Oeltjen of Console Mattiaci Law in Moorestown, N.J.

The defendant has not yet secured legal counsel.

U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey case 1:19-cv-19432

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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