Phillips was terminated in 2018 in response to backlash against Starbucks after two black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were arrested while waiting for a business associate at one of the many Philadelphia locations she oversaw. Employees at the Center City Philadelphia cafe called the police on the pair after they asked to use the washroom but hadn't ordered anything.
Phillips claimed in her 2020 lawsuit that her firing had been racially motivated. She said she was targeted despite not having had any direct influence on the decision to call the police.
Her allegations were backed up by the testimony of Paul Sykes, the black supervisor of the employee who made the 911 call that day. Sykes argued that the fact he did not face any disciplinary action while Phillips was let go showed that Starbucks had acted in a manor that exhibited racial bias.
The coffee giant tried to claim that Phillips had been fired for being an ineffective regional manager, but they failed to convince even a single member of the jury.
The Starbucks employee in 2018 had called 911 claiming Nelson and Robinson were "trespassing" after they violated company policy by asking to use the washroom, which they said was only for paying customers.
Cops showed up, and hauled the pair out of the cafe as onlookers recorded the interaction on their phones. The men were released from custody hours later after the district attorney found that they hadn't committed any crimes.
The incident sparked backlash against Starbucks, and Phillips alleged that she had been used as a scapegoat by the company to show that they were not racist. Nonetheless, protests persisted, and Starbucks eventually shut down hundreds of locations across the country for one day so that staff could undergo racial bias training.
Nelson and Robinson settled with Starbucks for an undisclosed amount.
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