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Starbucks Must Reinstate Fired Workers, Federal Judge Rules

In a decision issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman agreed with the National Labor Relations Board, which had asked the court to intervene in May.

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A federal judge is ordering Starbucks to reinstate seven employees in Memphis who were fired earlier this year after leading an effort to unionize their store.

In a decision issued Thursday, U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman agreed with the National Labor Relations Board, which had asked the court to intervene in May. The labor board said Starbucks violated U.S. labor law by interfering in workers’ right to organize.

Lipman’s decision requires Starbucks to offer to reinstate the employees within five days. Starbucks will also be required to post the court order in the Memphis store.

Starbucks said Thursday it strongly disagrees with the court order and will appeal. It will also request a stay of the opinion, which would delay the reinstatement of the employees while the appeal is considered.

The case has been among the most closely watched in the unionization effort at Starbucks. Since late last year, more than 220 U.S. Starbucks stores — including the Memphis store — have voted to unionize. Starbucks opposes the unionization effort.

Starbucks fired the seven employees in early February, citing safety. The Seattle coffee giant said the employees violated company policy by reopening a store after closing time and inviting non-employees — including a television crew — to come inside and move throughout the store.

“These individuals violated numerous policies and failed to maintain a secure work environment and safety standards,” the company said in a statement Thursday. “Interest in a union does not exempt partners from following policies that are in place to protect partners, our customers and the communities we serve.”

But the NLRB and the fired workers told the court that Starbucks had routinely tolerated off-duty employees and non-employees remaining in the store after hours to make drinks, collect belongings or assist each other.

“Such tolerance before union activity, but terminations resulting thereafter, supports an inference of discriminatory motive,” the judge wrote.


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