A group of Starbucks workers 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 filed in South Carolina state court revolves around an Aug. 1 incident at an Andersonville store where workers approached their supervisor and gave her a letter demanding higher wages ― a common tactic in labor organizing known as a “march 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 pay hike, and that one of them assaulted her ― accusations the workers and their union denied. A spokesperson for the local sheriff’s office later told The State that “none of the allegations” from the manager were true.
Starbucks said in a statement Monday that it was 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 exempt partners from following policies and procedures that apply to all partners,” the company said.
A TikTok video of a portion of the incident shows workers lined up around a table where the manager is seated on a cellphone. She gets up to leave and bumps a worker who’s in her path along the table. “Why are you pushing him?” a voice asks the manager. (It’s not clear whether the manager ever used the term “kidnapping,” or whether that was just the charge that fit her allegations.)
The eight workers who filed the lawsuit claim Starbucks injured their reputations by “falsely stating or insinuating that they had engaged in criminal assault and kidnapping and engaged in threatened conduct.”
They say they’ve suffered emotional distress as a result of the allegations.
The workers named Starbucks as a co-defendant in the suit, saying the manager consulted with higher-ups on the filing of her report and took part in a “coordinated response.”
“[Her] statement to police was false ― no employee blocked the exit, and no employee assaulted her,” their complaint states.
Starbucks suspended the workers pending an investigation, and barred them from going on other Starbucks properties.
According to the lawsuit, an attorney for Starbucks contacted the workers’ union, Workers United, following the incident and accused one member of “abusive, belligerent, and menacing conduct.”
That worker, Aneil Tripathi, said Monday that “Starbucks knew exactly what they were doing when it smeared our reputation, painting us as criminals.”
“This case is about more than defamation,” Tripathi said. “It’s about highlighting the disgusting and outright abuse Starbucks will level at their own workers.”
The spat in South Carolina is part of a broader fight between the company and the union campaign, Starbucks Workers United. Workers at more than 200 Starbucks stores have unionized in a matter of months.
Starbucks has opposed the campaign all along, and union members have accused the company of retaliating against them through firings, suspensions and store closures.
The general counsel of 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. Those cases are now being litigated.