Jury awards millions to employee who said she was fired for being white

Jun 15, 2023, 6:00 AM | Updated: 7:49 am

A jury found in favor of a former regional director who accused the company of racial discriminatio...

A jury found in favor of a former regional director who accused the company of racial discrimination. Mandatory Credit: Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

New York (CNN) — A jury on Monday found in favor of former Starbucks regional director Shannon Phillips, who sued the company for wrongfully firing her, claiming she was terminated for being white.

Phillips, who worked for Starbucks for about 13 years and managed a region of stores in the area, was fired after the arrest of two Black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks in April 2018.

The New Jersey jury returned a verdict of $25.6 million, including $25 million for punitive damages and $600,000 in compensatory damages, according to Console Mattiacci Law, which represents Phillips. The jury ruled unanimously after a six day trial, the lawyers said, noting that Phillips will also be seeking back and front pay.

Starbucks said it is disappointed in the decision and is evaluating its next steps, spokesperson Jaci Anderson told CNN.

This week’s verdict is the latest development in an incident that has sparked protest and outrage. In 2018, the two men were asked to leave the coffee shop after sitting at a table without ordering anything. The men, who declined to leave because they were waiting for a business associate, were escorted out of the coffee shop in handcuffs after a store manager called police on them. They later reached settlement agreements with Starbucks and the City of Philadelphia.

In a lawsuit first filed in 2019, Phillips said the company discriminated against her because of her race when she was let go.

The 2019 complaint said that following the arrest, Starbucks “took steps to punish White employees who had not been involved in the arrests, but who worked in and around the city of Philadelphia, in an effort to convince the community that it had properly responded to the incident.”

Phillips, who at the time oversaw areas including Philadelphia, said that Starbucks had ordered her to place a white employee on administrative leave as part of these efforts, due to alleged discriminatory conduct which Phillips said she knew was inaccurate. After Phillips tried to defend the employee, the company let her go, she said.

The reason for termination, according to the complaint, was that “‘the situation is not recoverable.’” The complaint argued that this was “a pre-text for race discrimination,” adding that Phillips’ “race was a motivating and/or determinative factor in [Starbucks’] discriminatory treatment.”

Starbucks, which denied the claims at the time, said in a 2021 court filing that after the incident, “senior leaders and members of Partner Resources all observed Ms. Phillips demonstrate a complete absence of leadership during this crisis.”

Phillips, the company argued, “appeared overwhelmed and lacked awareness of how critical the situation had become.” Phillips’ manager ultimately decided to dismiss her “because strong leadership was essential during that time,” according to the document.

A crisis for Starbucks

The 2018 incident was a major PR crisis for the company. In the wake of the arrests, Starbucks took several steps to try to alleviate the situation.

Then-CEO Kevin Johnson apologized, saying that what happened was “reprehensible” and promising to make any changes needed to make sure that something like it doesn’t happen again.

Starbucks soon changed its policy to allow people to use Starbucks’ restrooms and spend time in stores, even if they haven’t made any purchases. The coffee chain also closed about 8,000 company-owned stores for an afternoon for a mandatory anti-bias training for roughly 175,000 employees.

— CNN’s Laura Ly and Zenebou Sylla contributed to this report.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

United States

tom and jerry...

Mark Jones

Shift in standards causing Box offices to see more PG-13 movies

Box offices are starting to see more PG-13 movies. KSL Movie Show host Andy Farnsworth discusses why this is the case.

8 hours ago

Authorities hunted Friday for the reason a submersible carrying people to the wreck of the Titanic ...

Simone Seikaly

Months after the Titan disappeared, what’s up with OceanGate?

A school in Canada is being questioned about a deal they considered with OceanGate, and then there's the cost of the rescue.

10 hours ago

Actors, writers, and other union members join SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikers on a picket line in New Yo...

Jon Passantino

Striking actors and Hollywood studios to restart talks days after writers announce a new tentative labor contract

Striking actors and Hollywood studios will resume negotiations this week.

21 hours ago

US Army Private Travis King ran across the military demarcation line into North Korea on July 18. K...

Kevin Liptak, Haley Britzky, Oren Liebermann, Betsy Klein, Rob Picheta, Gawon Bae, Alex Marquardt and Michael Conte

American soldier Travis King is en route to the US after being freed by North Korea

American soldier Travis King is on his way back to United States after being released by North Korea.

22 hours ago

Republican presidential candidates former Vice President Mike Pence, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and ...

Eric Bradner, Gregory Krieg, Steve Contorno, Daniel Strauss and Arit John

Takeaways from the second Republican presidential debate

Listen to the recap from the second Republican debate today at 9:05 on Dave & Dujanovic! (CNN) — The Republicans vying to become the top alternative to Donald Trump in 2024 opened their second debate Wednesday night with new attacks on the front-runner, but their efforts to separate themselves from the pack were marred by a chaotic environment, […]

23 hours ago

Rep John Curtis promises to investigate stolen COVID relief money...

Mark Jones

Rep. Curtis reintroduces government shutdown bill

Rep. John Curtis has introduced a bill that would prevent members of Congress from being paid if there is a governement shutdown.

1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

Wellsville Mountains in the spring with a pond in the foreground...

Wasatch Property Management

Advantages of Renting Over Owning a Home

Renting allows you to enjoy luxury amenities and low maintenance without the long-term commitment and responsibilities of owning a home.

Clouds over a red rock vista in Hurricane, Utah...

Wasatch Property Management

Why Southern Utah is a Retirement Paradise

Retirement in southern Utah offers plenty of cultural and recreational opportunities. Find out all that this region has to offer.

Human hand holding a protest banner stop vaping message over a crowded street background....

Prosperous Utah Communities

Utah’s Battle to Protect Youth from Vaping Epidemic Faces New Threat as Proposed Rule Threatens Progress

Utah's strict standards of nicotine levels in vaping products are at risk, increasing health hazards associated with use. Read more about how you can advocate for a better future for Utah's youth.

Aerial photo of Bear Lake shoreline with canopies and people camped out on the beach...

Visit Bear Lake

Last-Minute Summer Vacation Planning? Check Out Bear Lake!

Bear Lake is the perfect getaway if you are last-minute summer vacation planning. Enjoy activities with your whole family at this iconic lake.

close up of rose marvel saliva blooms in purple...

Shannon Cavalero

Drought Tolerant Perennials for Utah

The best drought tolerant plants for Utah can handle high elevations, alkaline soils, excessive exposure to wind, and use of secondary water.

Jury awards millions to employee who said she was fired for being white