A former regional manager for Starbucks filed suit against the company this week, claiming it wrongfully fired her following the high-profile arrests of two black men at one of the coffee chain's stores in Philadelphia.
Shannon Phillips accused Starbucks of unfairly punishing white employees like her in response to the widely publicized arrests last year of Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson.
In a federal lawsuit filed in New Jersey, attorneys for Phillips said Starbucks "took steps 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."
Phillips, who became regional director of operations for Philadelphia, Southern New Jersey, Delaware and parts of Maryland in 2011, said she worked to repair Starbucks' relationship with the community after the arrests. However, she said she was fired in May 2018 after she objected to the company's decision to place another white manager on leave, according to The Associated Press and WCAU. In her lawsuit, Phillips said the manager had been accused of paying white employees more than black employees, though she said he had no control over how much money a person was paid.
A spokesperson for Starbucks told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the company denied all claims made in the lawsuit and planned to defend itself in court.
Nelson and Robinson were arrested in April 2018 after a manager called 911 to report they were trespassing. Employees told authorities that the men were denied the use of the store’s bathroom and refused to leave. The incident sparked outrage and raised questions of racial bias after video of the encounter was posted to social media.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.