Starbucks Forced To Pay $25 Million In Racial Discrimination Lawsuit

This week, former Starbucks regional director Shannon Phillips was awarded $25.6 million in "punitive and compensatory damages" following her 2018 termination from the company (via ABC). A New Jersey jury issued the verdict after a six day-trial to determine if Phillips' claim that she had been fired because she is white was indeed legitimate. The jury ruled unanimously in Phillips' favor.

Phillips' termination stemmed from an April 2018 incident in a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Starbucks store during which two black businessmen were denied access to the restroom while waiting for a business partner. A Starbucks employee (not Phillips) told the men the restroom was only for paying customers, and after they refused to purchase something, 911 was called with the accusation of trespassing. The men were arrested (via KHOU 11).

Following the incident, Kevin Johnson, the CEO of Starbucks at the time, issued a statement apologizing to the two men and assuring the public that the coffee company "stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling." When Phillips was let go weeks later, however, she claimed racial discrimination was exactly what led to her termination.

A jury concluded racial discrimination played a role in Phillips' termination

While the Philadelphia Starbucks location where the incident occurred was in regional director Shannon Phillips' jurisdiction, she was not at the store when it happened. Per the court documents, Starbucks claimed Phillips' actions following the arrests were what motivated the decision to terminate her, stating she "lacked awareness of how critical the situation was for Starbucks and its partners." Phillips, on the other hand, claimed the termination was based on racial discrimination. She had nearly 13 years of experience with the company (via LinkedIn).

A key person who testified in Phillips' case versus Starbucks was a Black district manager who told the jury he thought race played a role in Starbucks' determination to let her go, noting that he also thought his own race played a role in the coffee company's decision to keep him on (via ABC). According to official documents, the district manager told the court Phillips was "really supportive," "showed compassion," and was "very, very present" after the incident had occurred.