A former Starbucks regional manager whose territory included a Philadelphia location where two black men were arrested last year after they sat down in the store without ordering anything is suing the company for allegedly discriminating against white people, according to reports.
Shannon Phillips, who is white, alleges Starbucks fired her less than a month after the incident gained national headlines.
The black men, business partners Robinson and Rashon Nelson, both 23, were accused of trespassing and led away in handcuffs from the Starbucks in the city’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood on April 12, 2018, after the manager called the police. After spending hours in jail, the men were released, and no charges were filed.
Their arrest touched off a furor in the U.S. over racial profiling and proved a major embarrassment for Starbucks. The company later reached a financial settlement for an undisclosed sum and an offer of a free college education.
Amid the uproar, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson came to Philadelphia to apologize to the men. He also announced that more than 8,000 Starbucks stores in the U.S. would close for an afternoon so nearly 175,000 employees could get training in unconscious bias.
Phillips, a 13-year employee of Starbucks who oversaw stores in southern New Jersey, Philadelphia, Delaware and Maryland, “took steps to ensure that the retail locations within her area were a safe and welcoming environment for all customers, regardless of race,” according to the lawsuit that was filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for New Jersey.
In the lawsuit, Phillips alleges Starbucks ordered her to fire a subordinate who had nothing to do with the store where the arrests occurred. The manager of the Philadelphia location, who is black, was not penalized, NBC News reported.
Her bosses reportedly told her that the white manager’s firing had to do with non-white employees complaining about being paid less. When Phillips objected, pointing out that another division of the company determines salaries, she was fired, claiming that the managers told her “the situation is not recoverable.”
Phillips’ lawyer, who has declined to speak publicly about his client’s lawsuit, is asking for a jury trial.
Starbucks told Fox News: “We deny the claims in the lawsuit and are prepared to defend our case in court.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.