Starbucks Union SBWorkers United has filed its first lawsuit against the coffee chain, after workers at a South Carolina Starbucks claim that management filed a false police report against the workers, accusing them of assault and kidnapping after the workers attempted to demand a raise in August as a group. The workers filed a defamation lawsuit on Monday months after a police investigation found that none of the original accusations were valid.
According to SBWorkers United, in August, a group of employees at a unionized store in Anderson, South Carolina approached their manager as a group to ask for a raise. While they were doing so, the manager took a phone call and pushed past the workers to walk out of the store, as seen in this video on TikTok posted by the employees.
Two days later, Starbucks management filed a police report against the workers, accusing them of kidnapping and assault — claiming that the employees were preventing her from leaving the store — and Starbucks corporate backed up the accusations, while the workers were suspended. According to SBWorkers United, a subsequent weeks-long police investigation —which included visits to the employees’ homes — found that the employees had done nothing illegal.
“After talking with all the employees and seeing the TikTok video that an employee posted from the event, none of the allegations were true,” police told media following the investigation, according to the defamation lawsuit filed in the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas. “The employees did not stop her from leaving and did not put their hands on her, which is what the boss reported had happened. She is the one who initiated any kind of contact when she pushed past one of the employees as she was walking out of the door.”
The employees are filing this lawsuit to seek retribution for defamation because Starbucks management never retracted its statement. They are seeking “a declaratory judgment of defamation against the company, an injunction against further false claims of illegal activity, and compensatory and punitive damages,” according to the lawsuit filed.
"No Starbucks partner has been or will be disciplined for supporting or engaging in lawful union activity — but interest in a union does not exempt partners from following policies and procedures that apply to all partners," Starbucks told Reuters in a statement.
As of Oct. 7, 250 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize. And 11 union leaders in multiple stores — who had been previously terminated by the company for allegedly failing to follow Starbucks policies — have been ordered to be reinstated by the National Labor Relations Board.
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