Shannon Phillips, a former regional operations director of Philadelphia-area Starbucks coffee shops, claims she was fired to make amends with the community after the wrongful arrests of two Black men at a Starbucks location in Center City in 2018 went viral.
In a federal lawsuit filed by Phillips, who led Starbucks’ retail operations in southern New Jersey, Philadelphia, Delaware and parts of Maryland, she says she wasn’t involved with the arrests of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson.
Nelson and Robinson were infamously arrested last year at the Philadelphia Starbucks after a white store manager called the police on the men, claiming they were loitering. It was later revealed that they were waiting for another party to join them for coffee. The whole incident was captured on cell phone cameras and went viral, causing a boycott movement that pressured Starbucks to institute racial bias training at all of their locations nationwide.
Phillips claims she was terminated less than a month after the incident because she refused to place the white district manager of the store where the men were arrested on administrative leave. That same district manager was also accused of paying lower salaries to Black workers than their white counterparts.
Phillips reportedly worked for Starbucks for 13 years and says the company’s “Partner Resources” branch sets employee’s salaries without any input from the store’s district manager. She also says Starbucks’ reason for disciplining the manager was “factually impossible."
Instead, according to the suit, she believes she was fired due to the viral arrests, and the company aimed 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.”
The lawsuit also claims that the Black district manager who promoted the white employee who called the police on the two Black men did not face any punishment from the coffee chain.
Starbucks has since denied the claims in the lawsuit and is prepared to defend its case in court.
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