Coffee giant Starbucks has been ordered to pay $25.6 million to a former store manager who a jury determined had been fired because she was White.
The former regional manager, Shannon Phillips, who oversaw dozens of Starbucks coffee shops, was fired by the company in the aftermath of a 2018 incident that took place at a Starbucks in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia.
The incident involved two Black men in their 20s who were awaiting a third party for a business meeting at the Rittenhouse Square Startbucks when one of them, Rashon Nelson,, because he hadn't purchased anything.
A store employee then asked Nelson and his business partner, Donte Robinson, if they needed help. The pair declined. Shortly thereafter, having been summoned by Starbucks staff, police arrived, handcuffed the pair and escorted them from the cafe.
Their arrests were captured on video and shared widely., with the company closing all of its stores to hold .
Phillips, the regional manager, was fired, while the manager of the Rittenhouse Square coffee shop, who was Black, kept his job., alleging that race had been a determining factor in her termination.
Her lawyers argued that "upper management of Starbucks were looking for a 'scapegoat' to terminate to show action was being taken" following the incident involving the two Black men.
A federal jury in Camden, New Jersey, on Monday agreed with their claim and awarded Phillips $600,000 in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages after finding that Starbucks violated her federal civil rights in addition to a New Jersey law that prohibits discrimination based on race.
The case is unusual in that traditionally, anti-discrimination laws have protected individuals who fall into minority categories, according to Wilk Auslander employment attorney Helen Rella.
"The decision in the Starbucks case, that found Starbucks liable for race discrimination relative to a white employee who was terminated, sends the signal that all races are protected from discrimination – not just those who are considered minorities," she told CBS MoneyWatch. "It serves as a reminder to employers to carefully consider their actions to ensure that they are compliant with anti-discrimination laws across the board."
Starbucks did not immediately respond to CBS MoneyWatch's request for comment.
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