Former Starbucks regional director Shannon Phillips has won a significant victory in her race discrimination lawsuit against the company. The lawsuit, filed in 2019, alleged that Phillips, who is White, was wrongfully terminated following the arrest of two Black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks in April 2018.
According to the complaint, Starbucks took actions to punish White employees in the Philadelphia area who were not involved in the arrests, in an attempt to demonstrate a proper response to the incident. Phillips, who oversaw the region at the time, claimed that she was instructed by Starbucks to place a White employee on administrative leave based on alleged discriminatory behavior that she knew to be false. When Phillips defended the employee, she was subsequently fired by the company.
The stated reason for Phillips’ termination, as mentioned in the complaint, was that “the situation is not recoverable.” However, the lawsuit argued that this justification was a pretext for race discrimination, asserting that Phillips’ race played a significant role in the discriminatory treatment she faced.
Starbucks, which initially denied the allegations, argued in a court filing in 2021 that Phillips had displayed an “absence of leadership” during the crisis following the arrests. The company claimed that Phillips appeared overwhelmed and lacked awareness of the criticality of the situation. Starbucks contended that her dismissal was ultimately based on the need for strong leadership during that period.
On Monday, a New Jersey jury unanimously ruled in favor of Phillips, delivering a verdict of $25.6 million in damages. The verdict includes $25 million in punitive damages and $600,000 in compensatory damages. Phillips’ legal representation, Console Mattiacci Law, confirmed the jury’s decision and mentioned that she will also seek back and front pay in addition to the awarded damages.
Starbucks expressed disappointment with the verdict and stated that it is evaluating its options for further action. The case highlights the ongoing debate surrounding racial discrimination in the workplace and serves as a reminder of the potential consequences faced by companies when allegations of discrimination arise.