June 12, 2023

White Female Awarded $25.6M in “Reverse” Discrimination Case

Let me say it before you do. Discrimination is not directional. There is no forward or reverse. Having said that, most of us recognize this term as it applies to cases of discrimination when the plaintiff is different from the typical.

On June 12th, a federal jury awarded a white female, former regional manager of Starbucks $600,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $25 million in punitive damages. She alleged she was fired from Starbucks because of her race.

This case is not a rare or isolated event. On June 26, 2023, a University of Pennsylvania Professor resigned and filed a suit alleging discriminatory practices applied to students and faculty based on race.  It was reported in May, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case filed by two Michigan State Police officers who alleged they were suspended and then fired, in part, as a result of disciplinary practices that discriminated based on race.

Some of you may have heard me talk about unintended consequences of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging, and Accessibility (DEIBA) programs that sometimes result in “Exclusion through Inclusion.”  This theme can also be found in this month’s SCOTUS decision related to affirmative action programs in academic institutions receiving federal funds. In that decision, Justice Thomas wrote, “it is an immutable fact that ‘every time the government uses racial criteria to ‘bring the races together,’ someone gets excluded, and the person excluded suffers an injury solely because of his or her race.” Let’s ensure the same is not true in the private sector.

Lessons learned? When considering DEIBA initiatives, define your business objectives. Measure your progress towards your intended goals, as well as any unintended consequences. For example, does a new recruitment and retention strategy actually result in more qualified hires in your target jobs and reduce turnover? Are there any unanticipated trends, such as any reduction in applications, accepted offers, or separations from individuals who were not a part of your target audience? Also, talk to your company’s legal counsel and conduct this monitoring under their direction.