Former Starbucks regional director suing company, claiming racial discrimination after Philadelphia incident

Katherine Scott Image
Thursday, October 31, 2019
Fmr. Starbucks regional director sues company, claims racial discrimination
Fmr. Starbucks regional director sues company, claims racial discrimination: Katherine Scott reports during Action News at 12:30 p.m. on October 31, 2019.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A former regional director for Starbucks and oversaw the Center City location that made national news is suing the coffee company alleging racial discrimination.

Shannon Phillips of Woolwich, Gloucester County, claims Starbucks discriminated against white employees after controversial arrests at a Center City store that made national news.

Phillips, who is white, contends she had nothing to do with the arrests and yet was terminated less than a month later.

In April 2018, two black men were arrested at the 18th and Spruce store. Cell phone video showed Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson arrested for trespassing while waiting for a business meeting.

The store manager had called 911 after the men asked to use the bathroom, but didn't buy anything. The manager later parted ways with Starbucks.

2 men arrested at Starbucks settle with city for $200K youth program. John Rawlins reports during Action News at 5 p.m. on May 2, 2018.

This incident touched off a public outcry. Protests followed at the Center City Starbucks store and other locations.

Later, Starbucks held nationwide racial-bias training for the company's 175,000 employees.

Men arrested at Philly Starbucks speak to Good Morning America on May 3, 2018.

Phillips worked for Starbucks for around 13 years. As regional director, she oversaw approximately 100 stores in the Philadelphia region, South Jersey, Delaware, and parts of Maryland.

She had nine district managers reporting to her.

The lawsuit states Phillips worked "tirelessly" for Starbucks to repair community relations after the arrests while ensuring employee and customer safety.

Yet, according to the complaint, weeks after the incident, Starbucks took steps to punish white employees not involved in the arrests in an effort to convince the community that it had properly responded.

Phillips states that as her role as regional director, Starbucks ordered her to put a white employee on administrative leave, who was not involved with the arrests, because of an allegation of discrimination she knew to be false.

Yet, she claimed, the district manager of the 18th and Spruce location, who is black, had no disciplinary action taken against him.

Phillips says Starbucks discriminated against her because of her race and retaliated because of her complaints of racial discrimination.

Phillips' lawyer is asking for a jury trial.

Action News reached out to Starbucks. A company spokesman issued the following statement Thursday, "We deny the claims in the lawsuit and are prepared to defend our case in court."

Starbucks CEO speaks to Good Morning America on April 16, 2018.