A former Starbucks regional manager who oversaw the Philadelphia store where a worker infamously called the police on two Black men for not buying any products has been awarded more than $25 million because she is a white woman.
More than five years after the incident that renewed attention to racial profiling and implicit biases, a jury on Monday decided that Shannon Phillips, who was employed as a regional manager at Starbucks, had her federal civil rights violated when she was fired in the aftermath of the worker’s phone call to the police about the Black men who were simply waiting for a business partner to arrive.
The Black men ended up getting arrested by Philadelphia police officers.
Phillips, for her part, ended up getting fired.
The New York Times reported that Starbucks will pay Phillips $25.6 million after the federal jury agreed she was fired “because she was white.”
Phillips was awarded $25 million in punitive damages and $600,000 in compensatory damages.
Before she was fired, Phillips led Starbucks’ retail operations in the Philadelphia region, southern New Jersey, Delaware and parts of Maryland. She held her position during the time when the two Black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were wrongfully arrested for sitting in a Starbucks, sparking national outcry.
Phillips maintained that she had nothing to do with the two arrests, yet she was terminated less than a month after the incident because she said she protested placing the white district manager at the 18th and Spruce Streets store on administrative leave. The manager faced administrative leave because they allegedly paid Black workers a lower salary than their white counterparts.
Phillips’ lawsuit alleged that Starbucks tried 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.”
A day after Phillips objected to suspending the white manager, a 15-year employee of Starbucks, she was told that she was being terminated and that “the situation is not recoverable,” the lawsuit said.
The suit also accuses Starbucks of not taking any action against the store’s Black district manager, who allegedly was behind promoting the employee who called the police on the Black men before the arrest took place.
Phillips argued that she had been praised for her “exceptional” performance and she had received a bonus a month before she was fired. She said she was on track for a promotion to a position with Starbucks’ government and community affairs unit right before the two Black men were arrested.
Phillips sued the coffee chain for loss of earning capacity, benefits, “pain and suffering, embarrassment, humiliation, loss of self-esteem, mental anguish, and loss of life’s pleasures.”
It was a strange twist of fate for a case in which the Starbucks store manager called 911, a number reserved for emergencies, for a decidedly non-emergency situation.
On April 14, 2018, Holly Hylton called 911 to report “two gentlemen in my café who are refusing to make a purchase or leave.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Starbucks apologized profusely and organized a day of employee training to avoid similar situations in the future.
It was later revealed that the Philadelphia police acted worse than initially realized when they arrested the two Black men, identified as Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson.
During an interview with Good Morning America, Nelson said the police never informed them why they were being arrested.
“As soon as [the officers] approached us, they just said we had to leave,” Nelson said. “There was no question of ‘Was there a problem here between you and guys and the manager? What happened?’”
Robinson said they weren’t read their rights and instead were placed in “double-locked handcuffs behind our back, escorted out and put into a squad car.”
Nelson and Robinson sued Philadelphia before reaching a confidential settlement with the city in an agreement that provided $200,000 to benefit young entrepreneurs like themselves.
This is America.
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