Starbucks is back in the headlines, but not because of anything new that it is putting in its coffee.
• There is a back-and-forth taking place between Starbucks and the LGBTQ+ community over how the company is dealing with Pride month this year - the union representing workers at some of its stores, Starbucks Workers United, has been accusing the company on Twitter of banning rainbow flags and other related decorations from stores in at least 21 states.
Fast Company writes that "workers have chimed in with various examples, although none of them establish that Starbucks has explicitly enacted a corporate-wide policy forbidding stores from hanging Pride decor. In one TikTok video, you see an Atlanta worker motioning at her store’s Pride flags, stowed in a bathroom bucket, and explaining that while they’ve gone up in previous years, workers this year have been told, 'It’s unsafe - we don’t have a ladder to hang them up properly.'
"Over in Madison, Wisconsin, the order for removal supposedly came straight from the district manager who, 'despite the vast majority of the store’s workers being members of the LGBTQ+ community,' argued that Pride displays aren’t 'welcoming for everyone,' local union organizers claimed."
According to the story, Starbucks says it has investigated the claims and concluded that it is possible that "some workers may have broken store display protocol." However, a spokesperson tells Fast Company, "We unwaveringly support the LGBTQIA2+ community … There has been no change to any policy on this matter, and we continue to encourage our store leaders to celebrate with their communities including for U.S. Pride month in June."
Still, Fast Company says that it "has viewed messages from store managers to their employees suggesting that policy changes did, in fact, occur this year on at least the regional level, and it appears that these bans are being enforced at a number of union stores."
• And then, there's this story from the New York Times:
"The episode plunged one of America’s most ubiquitous brands into crisis.
"In April 2018, two Black men entered a Starbucks shop in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia for a business meeting with a white man who had not yet arrived. While they waited, and before ordering, one of the two asked to use the bathroom. He was refused. Eventually, they were asked to leave. When they did not, an employee called the police.
"The subsequent arrests, captured in videos viewed millions of times online, prompted accusations of racism, protests and boycott threats. The company’s chief executive apologized publicly, describing the way the men had been treated as 'reprehensible.' Starbucks took the extraordinary step of temporarily closing 8,000 stores to teach workers about racial bias.
"On Monday, in a surprising twist, a federal jury in New Jersey ordered Starbucks to pay $25.6 million to a former regional manager after determining that the company had fired her amid the fallout from the Rittenhouse Square episode because she was white.
"The jury found that Starbucks had violated the federal civil rights of the former manager, Shannon Phillips, as well as a New Jersey law that prohibits discrimination based on race, awarding her $600,000 in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages … Ms. Phillips said in the suit that Starbucks, as part of its damage-control effort after the arrests, had sought to punish her and other white employees in and around Philadelphia even if they had not been involved in the events that led to the police being called."
Starbucks has not commented on the ruling, though it previously "denied in court filings that Ms. Phillips had been fired because she was white and said she was let go because she performed poorly in response to the episode that led to the arrests."
- KC's View:
I can't really speak to the latter story - it sounds like an awful lot of money to me, but also conceivable that Starbucks' then-management took knee-jerk moves to deal with a PR problem. I'll have to trust the justice system on this one.
As for the first story, we all know that there are a lot of companies out there that are reconsidering their Pride month promotions in the light of the cultural blowback that can come from certain quarters. But companies also have to be true to their core ethical values, even if it there is a price. Ethics, after all, only are ethics if they cost you something.
I actually think Target would have been better off if, when faced with criticism for its Pride promotions and even the threat of violence in its stores, it had punched back. Not literally, but with the full force of the law. If people disrupt your stores or threaten your people, have them arrested and prosecuted. Leave no doubt that you have a backbone, unlike the invertebrates who like to phone in bomb threats or make vague pronouncements on social media.