On Friday (June 9), a former Starbucks regional manager won a $25.6 million judgment after accusing the company of firing her because she is White in response to the national backlash over the arrest of two black men at one of its Philadelphia coffee shops.
According to court documents, a New Jersey federal jury ruled in favor of Shannon Phillips, who sued Starbucks in 2019 for racial bias and discrimination.
The eight-member panel took nearly five hours to award Phillips $25 million in punitive damages and $600,000 in compensatory damages, finding that her skin color played a decisive role in her firing.
Phillips, who worked at Starbucks for 13 years and oversaw about 100 coffee shops, was fired less than a month after Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson were arrested at the Spruce Street store on April 12, 2018, for refusing to leave a table.
The incident, captured on cell phone video, quickly went viral, and Starbucks came under intense scrutiny for its treatment of Black men.
They said they were waiting for a business partner and had not ordered anything when the manager called the Philadelphia police.
Phillips was not there when the incident occurred.
To quell the backlash, the chain apologized and announced it would its 8,000 U.S. stores early for racial bias training.
According to reporting by Law360, attorney Laura Mattiacci told jurors in closing arguments in the civil trial, which began on June 5, that the company is seeking a scapegoat to show it acted after the arrests.
He reminded jurors of the testimony of District Superintendent Paul Sykes, who is Black and reports to Phillips.
Sykes told jurors that his colleagues loved Philips and that her unexpected dismissal was probably because of her skin color.
Mattiacci claimed that Philips’ during was “all about the appearances, the optics of what they did,” questioning whether Philips would have been fired if she was Black.