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Starbucks Case Summary


There have been a number of shocking stories about discrimination over the years, many of which focus specifically on police discrimination against black persons, especially black men. One such story that has shaken the foundation of American ideals is the April 2018 arrest of two black men at a Starbucks coffee store in downtown Philadelphia. The following provides a brief summary of the incident and arrest, the apology issued by the police and the Starbucks involved, and settlement actions.

The Arrest: Two Black Men Arrested at Downtown Philadelphia Starbucks

As reported by The New York Times on April 15, 2018, two black men were arrested at a Starbucks in downtown Philadelphia when they were requested by a store employee to leave, and refused to do so. According to reports, the request to vacate the premises was issued after one of the men asked to use the bathroom – a request that was denied because the men had not yet purchased anything from the coffee company.

The men said that they were waiting to meet someone. This claim was verified by Andrew Yaffe (who is white), who is seen on video at the time of arrest asking police officers, “What did they [the police] get called for? Because there are two black guys sitting here meeting me?”

No Charges Pressed

Both men who were arrested at the Starbucks, who have since been identified as Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were confused when they were arrested. According to their accounts, they didn’t think much of it when Nelson was told he couldn’t use the restroom as he hadn’t ordered anything. Nor did they worry when a Starbucks’ employee approached their table and asked if they had been helped – they explained that they were waiting for someone to conduct a business meeting. Even when police walked through the Starbucks’ door, they didn’t give it a second thought. That is, until the police began approaching their table, and they were arrested.

At the time of arrest, the two men say that they were not read their rights, nor where they read the charges against them. The same New York Times article cited above explains that the arrest was based on “suspicion of trespassing.” However, no charges were pressed against either man, with the prosecutor’s office in Philadelphia stating that there was no evidence that there was any crime committed.

Starbucks Apologizes; Settlement Reached

There is no doubt that the arrest was unwarranted, and epitomized the racial bias that is currently plaguing our country. Starbucks released an apology following the arrest, stating that it was reviewing its policies and would take action to ensure that a situation like this would not take place in the future. Kevin R. Johnson, the chief executive of the coffee company, also released a statement calling the situation “reprehensible.” Starbucks will also shut down their stores on May 29, 2018 for a racial bias training.

Nelson and Robinson also reached a settlement with both Starbucks and the City of Philadelphia. The settlement with Starbucks included a financial payment of an undisclosed amount, as well as an agreement for “continued listening and dialogue between the parties and specific action and opportunity.”    

A settlement with the City of Philadelphia was also reached: two dollars. The symbolic settlement also included a release of claims following an agreement that the city will invest $200,000 in the creation of nonprofit organization aimed at assisting young entrepreneurs in the area.

As a note, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross also issued an apology to the two men, although it came later than it should have. Originally, Ross defended the police officers’ actions in arresting the men, saying that “These officers did absolutely nothing wrong…” and that they had “legal standing” to make the arrest. Later, Ross retracted these statements and instead said that he “failed miserably” and had exacerbated the situation with his previous comments.

Commentary from Robinson and Nelson

When interviewed following the settlements, both Robinson and Nelson said–when asked what they wanted moving forward–that they want to be sure that this situation doesn’t happen again. “What I want is for a young man, or young men, to not be traumatized by this, and instead motivated, inspired,” mentioned Robinson.

Nelson said that this is a time to take this opportunity as a stepping stone to stand up and show one’s greatness, and to show that one should not be judged by the color of their skin.

Our Lawyers Are Here to Help

At the law offices of Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C., we were devastated by the news of the arrest, and like Mr. Robinson and Mr. Nelson, hope that this will serve as a wake up call for our country, and there will not be a repeat incident in the future. To learn more about our legal services in Philadelphia, please call our lawyers today or send us a message to request a consultation.

Contact us for your consultation (215) 567-3500