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Jury awards Starbucks manager $25M in race discrimination case

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A New Jersey jury has found race played a role in a Starbucks regional director’s termination, a lead trial counsel in the case, Laura Mattiacci of Console Mattiacci Law, confirmed to HR Dive on Tuesday. The jury awarded $600,000 in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages, Mattiacci said.

The plaintiff, a White regional director who managed locations in Philadelphia, Southern New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, was fired following a high-profile racial profiling incident at a Philadelphia location that took place in 2018. 

During that incident, a Starbucks employee called the police on two Black men who were meeting with another man at the location. The men were arrested “on suspicion of trespassing,” leading to a nationwide outcry and resulting in the company closing all its stores for several hours of racial bias training roughly a month later.

To mitigate the damage from the incident, the company “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,” the complaint alleged

Returning its verdict Monday, a federal jury apparently agreed, finding Starbucks liable under both federal and New Jersey state law, Mattiacci said. “We are very grateful for the jury’s attentiveness and work in listening to all of the evidence presented in Court in this case,” she added.

The case represents a rare but not unprecedented example of a White plaintiff successfully proving a charge of racial discrimination in court, spurred by an apparent company effort to address a D&I goal.

In late 2021, for example, a federal jury returned a verdict in favor of a White, male applicant who was fired despite positive evaluations and replaced with two female workers. 

Courts have not been shy about dismissing such claims when they lack merit, however; the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out such a case late last year when a school district successfully showed it hired a Black athletic director over his White competition due to a range of legitimate reasons. 

Starbucks did not return a request for comment.

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