A Starbucks regional manager was awarded $25.6 million after she was unjustly fired by the corporation for being white.
The termination was an alleged attempt to counteract national criticism over the arrest of two black patrons at one of its Philadelphia-based locations.
Shannon Phillips filed a lawsuit against her former employer in 2019, alleging discrimination and racial bias, according to court documents.
Determining that Phillips’ skin color was a primary role in the dismissal, an eight-member panel awarded her $25 million in punitive damages and $600,000 in compensatory damages, after five hours of deliberation.
After 13 years of employment with oversight of around 100 cafes, Phillips was fired by Starbucks less than a month after Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were arrested on April 12, 2018, at a Spruce Street café for not purchasing anything while refusing to leave a table.
Phillips was not present during the incident which went viral after being captured on cellphone video. Nelson and Robinson said they were sitting at a table, waiting for a colleague before ordering when an unnamed manager called the police.
To ease tensions, the corporation apologized and administered racial bias training, resulting in the early closure of 8,000 U.S. locations.
Law360 reported attorney Laura Mattiacci told jurors that Starbucks was seeking out a “sacrificial lamb” to exhibit action taken after the arrests. Mattiacci also reiterated to jurors in the closing arguments the testimony from district manager Paul Sykes, who is black and reported directly to Phillips.
Sykes claimed the termination was a surprise, noting that she was admired by her colleagues, and the termination was likely due to her skin color.
“This was all about the appearances, the optics of what they did,” Mattiacci said, according to Law360. “If Shannon Phillips is black, does it play out like this? This case is about Starbucks and self preservation.”
Richard Harris, Starbucks’ attorney, argued that Phillips was short of critical leadership skills required at the time of the encounter and that her position was filled with a White employee.
“A peace-time leader is very different from a wartime leader. These were turbulent times. Starbucks needed someone to show strength and resolution,” Harris told the panel.
As for Nelson and Robinson — they reached an unrevealed monetary settlement with Starbucks less than one month following their arrests.