Eight Starbucks baristas in Anderson, S.C., on Monday filed a defamation lawsuit against the coffee giant and their store manager, saying they were falsely accused of kidnapping and assault after asking for a raise.
The suit, filed in a South Carolina state court, asks for an unspecified amount of compensatory and punitive damages, alleging the store manager and Starbucks defamed the employees by maliciously coordinating to knowingly make false statements to the police and the public about the incident.
“Starbucks knew exactly what they were doing when it smeared our reputation, painting us as criminals,” Aneil Tripathi, one of the plaintiffs, said in a statement. “It’s more apparent now than ever that Starbucks will go to any length to smear workers, even going as far as lying to the police and accusing us of crimes we did not commit.”
The suit claims the employees presented the manager with a letter asking for wage increases on Aug. 1. The store’s employees had voted to unionize in June.
On Aug. 3, after apparently speaking with a Starbucks district manager, the store manager allegedly filed a false police report that lists charges of assault and kidnapping.
The police report states the store manager said the employees “would not let her leave until they got a raise. She stated that one employee also assaulted her,” according to the suit.
Starbucks Workers United, which represents employees at the Anderson location and dozens of other stores, posted a video on TikTok allegedly showing the manager brushing up against one of the employees, who was stationary, as the manager headed for the exit.
The Anderson County Sheriff’s Office told The State last month that the department investigated the incident and found “none of the allegations were true.”
“The employees did not stop her from leaving and did not put their hands on her, which is what the boss reported had happened,” a department spokesperson told the outlet. “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 suit claims the store manager’s statement to police and a public statement published by Starbucks on Aug. 8 were defamatory.
“On Monday, August 1, our store manager at I-85 & Clemson Blvd. felt threatened and unsafe as a result of conduct by 11 store partners,” the company’s statement read. “This was the store manager’s first day working at this location. Consistent with our longstanding policy, we opened an investigation and suspended with pay the partners involved in the incident.”
When reached for comment, a Starbucks spokesperson said the company was reviewing the complaint.
“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 spokesperson said. “We remain committed to maintaining a safe, welcoming environment for our customers, our partners and the community. We are reviewing the suit and look forward to defending the company against the allegations made.”
The Anderson location is one of more than 200 Starbucks locations nationwide that have unionized since December, after a store in Buffalo became the first of the coffee giant’s U.S. locations to organize.
Starbucks has attempted to stymie those unionization efforts, at times leading to battles in court.
Starbucks Workers United said the National Labor Relations Board has issued 35 complaints against Starbucks alleging more than 800 violations of federal labor law.
— Updated at 3:09 p.m.