A group of Starbucks employees in South Carolina have sued the company for defamation after a store manager accused them of assault and kidnapping during a workplace protest.
The lawsuit in South Carolina state court relates to an Aug. 1 incident at an Anderson store where workers approached their supervisor and handed him a letter demanding higher wages — a common tactic in the organization of work known as “marching on the boss”.
The manager later filed a police report alleging that the workers refused to let her leave the store until they got a raise, and that one of them assaulted her ― charges which the workers and their union have denied. A spokesperson for the local sheriff’s office later told The State that “none of the allegations” by the manager were true.
Starbucks said in a statement Monday that it is reviewing the lawsuit.
“No Starbucks partner has been or will be disciplined for supporting or engaging in lawful union activity – but interest in a union does not absolve partners from following the policies and procedures that apply to all partners,” the company said.
A TikTok Video Part of the incident shows workers lined up around a table where the manager is sitting on a cellphone. She gets up to leave and bumps into a worker who is in her way along the table. “Why are you pushing him? a voice asks the director. (It’s unclear if the official ever used the term “kidnapping” or if that was simply the accusation that matched his allegations.)
The eight workers who filed the lawsuit claim Starbucks damaged their reputation by “falsely stating or implying that they had engaged in criminal assaults and kidnappings and that they had engaged in to threatening behavior.
They say they suffered emotional distress as a result of the allegations.
Workers named Starbucks as a co-defendant in the lawsuit, saying the official consulted with superiors about the filing of her report and participated in a “coordinated response.”
“[Her] the statement to the police was false ― no employee blocked the exit and no employee assaulted her,” their complaint states.
Starbucks suspended the workers pending an investigation and banned them from traveling to other Starbucks properties.
According to the lawsuit, a Starbucks attorney contacted the workers’ union, Workers United, following the incident and accused a member of “abusive, belligerent and threatening conduct.”
This worker, Aneil Tripathi, said on Monday that “Starbucks knew exactly what it was doing when it smeared our reputation, portraying us as criminals.”
“This case goes beyond defamation,” Tripathi said. “This is to highlight the disgusting and outright abuse that Starbucks will inflict on its own employees.”
The spat in South Carolina is part of a larger struggle between the company and the labor campaign, Starbucks Workers United. Workers at more than 200 Starbucks stores unionized within months.
Starbucks has opposed the campaign from the start, and union members have accused the company of retaliating against them through layoffs, suspensions and store closures.
The General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board has found merit in many of the workers’ claims, filing more than 20 complaints against the company alleging labor law violations. These cases are currently the subject of a trial.
Correction: This story originally misidentified the city where the Starbucks store is located. It’s Anderson, not Andersonville.