A Starbucks regional manager was awarded $25.6 million in damages on Friday after she claimed the company fired her because she was white in reaction to a nationwide outcry after the arrest of two black men at one of its Philadelphia locations.
According to court records, a federal jury in New Jersey ruled in favor of Shannon Phillips, who sued Starbucks in 2019 alleging racial intolerance and discrimination.
The eight-member jury took almost five hours to award Phillips $25 million in punitive damages and $600,000 in compensatory damages, concluding that her skin color played a significant part in her firing.
Phillips, who had worked at Starbucks for 13 years and managed over 100 cafes, was dismissed less than a month after Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson were arrested on April 12, 2018, at a Spruce Street shop for declining to leave a table.
The event, which was recorded on cellphone video, immediately went viral, and Starbucks came under fire for its treatment of the black males, who said they were waiting for a business friend and hadn’t ordered anything when a manager sent the Philadelphia police. Phillips was not in attendance.
To soothe the racial uproar, the company apologized and shuttered 8,000 shops in the United States early for racial bias training.
Attorney Laura Mattiacci told jurors in closing arguments at the civil trial, which started on June 5, that the firm was seeking a “sacrificial lamb” to prove it was taking action after the arrests.
She reminded jurors of district manager Paul Sykes’ testimony, who is black and reports to Phillips.
He said she was well-liked by her coworkers and that her sudden dismissal was most likely related to the color of her skin.
This was all about appearances, the optics of what they did, Mattiacci said. Does it play out like this if Shannon Phillips is black? This case is about self-preservation and Starbucks.
Starbucks attorney Richard Harris said that Phillips lacked the required leadership abilities during the crisis and had been replaced by a white regional director.
A peacetime leader is not the same as a wartime leader. These were trying times. Starbucks needs someone with strength and resolve, Harris told the panel.
Three weeks after their arrests, Robinson and Nelson struck an undisclosed cash deal with Starbucks.
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