Jury awards former Starbucks manager $25.6M in discrimination case

The former regional manager sued the coffee giant in 2019, saying she was wrongly fired following the arrests of two Black men in one of Starbucks' Philadelphia cafes.
Starbucks lawsuit
A jury agreed with a former manager who argued she was wrongly fired in 2019. | Photo: Shutterstock

A federal jury in New Jersey has awarded $25.6 million to a former Starbucks regional manager who said the company wrongly fired her following the arrest of two Black men at one of the chain’s cafes in Philadelphia.

Shannon Phillips, who had worked with the chain for 13 years, had sued the company in 2019 after the firing, saying in a complaint that she had nothing to do with the arrests. The manager of the store in question was not her subordinate, her lawsuit argued.

A jury found Starbucks liable under both New Jersey state law and federal law and awarded $600,000 in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. A judge will later determine an award for economic damages that could include a loss of pay. “We are very grateful for the jury’s attentiveness and work in listening to all of the evidence presented in court in this case,” Laura Mattiacci, lead attorney for Phillips, said in an email.

Starbucks did not provide a response for the story.

The case revolved around the aftermath of an incident in Philadelphia in which an employee at a Starbucks called the police on two Black men who were waiting for a business meeting. The men later reached a settlement with the coffee giant. But video from the incident generated a firestorm of attention and protests outside the location, leading to an apology from the company’s then-CEO, Kevin Johnson.

Attorneys for Phillips in her lawsuit argued that she took steps to keep stores in her area safe and organized teams of management-level employees to work at stores where customers were too afraid to come into work during protests and worked with supervisors to understand what happened in the incident. The complaint also says she organized round-table events featuring former CEO Howard Schultz.

Phillips argued in her complaint that she was encouraged by her supervisor to apply for a new position supporting the company’s government and community affairs unit.

But she also argued that Starbucks vowed in its settlement agreement with the two men on May 2 that it would “continue to take actions that stem from this incident.” She was terminated one week later. The complaint says that Starbucks only argued that “the situation is not recoverable.”

Starbucks denied the accusations and had argued that any actions it took “were for legitimate, non-discriminatory, non-retaliatory reasons.”

Members help make our journalism possible. Become a Restaurant Business member today and unlock exclusive benefits, including unlimited access to all of our content. Sign up here.


Exclusive Content


Saladworks-parent WOWorks is shopping for new brands to buy

The platform company is almost finished assimilating its existing six brands. Now it's time to add to the family, said CEO Kelly Roddy.


2 more reminders that the restaurant business is risky

The Bottom Line: Franchising is no less risky than opening your own restaurant. Just ask former NFL player David Tyree and the former president of McDonald's Mexico.


There's plenty happening at the high end of the pricing barbell, too

Reality Check: Decadent meal choices are also proliferating, for a lot more than $5.


More from our partners