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Starbucks Faces Age Discrimination Lawsuit

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Was Store Manager discriminated against because of “youth culture”?

Atlanta, GAOn November 29, Markel Oden filed an age discrimination lawsuit against Starbucks Corporation, alleging that the coffee giant systematically discriminates against workers protected under both the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Georgia Age Discrimination Act. Starbucks has previously been accused of discriminating against African American workers with attendant unpaid wages claims.

Oden claims that he was denied opportunities for promotion and ultimately fired because of his age. He seeks to represent similarly situated employees throughout the United States who were over the age of 40.

Complicating the narrative is the story of Starbuck’s spearheading of a widely-praised program to recruit and hire workers age 16 to 19. The unemployment rate for these youths is far in excess of jobless rate for the entire work force.

Denied promotion, fired without warning


Oden was employed by Starbucks from April 2016 until July 2021. Prior to his termination at age 59, he was employed as a Store Manager at the Starbucks location in Roswell, Georgia. He was not given the opportunity to interview for the position of District Manager when it became available in 2019, despite having been a Store Manager for at least 3 years and having received excellent performance reviews. He had not been written up or disciplined for any reason. His final salary as a full-time employee came to $80,000, along with quarterly bonus opportunities of approximately $3,000 per quarter, before he was fired in July 2021.

He was terminated without notice after his supervisor accused him of discriminatory behavior. Oden alleges that the charges were not investigated, nor was he given the opportunity to contest them. He claims that the charge was mere pretext for his termination.

Praise for youth outreach


In 2015, The New York Times reported that Starbucks, in collaboration with other nearly 20 big American corporations planned to unveil a program to employ 100,000 unemployed young people. The “100,000 Opportunities Initiative” was aimed at the estimated 5.6 million Americans ages 16 to 24 who were neither studying nor working, and was designed to offer full-time positions as well as apprenticeships and internships. 

The fact that Oden v. Starbucks Corporation cites this article may be intended to suggest that the employment practices at Starbucks were a zero-sum equation. More opportunities for youth led to fewer opportunities for those over 40.

On the other hand, it may have been meant to describe a corporate culture that focused on a younger clientele and a younger workforce. This might foster discriminatory practices affecting older workers. The Complaint notes that a worker under the age of 40 with less experience was ultimately hired for the District Manager position which Mr. Oden sought.

Or it may be a red herring. There is no indication that anyone employed through the “100,000 Opportunities Initiative” was unlawfully favored for the District Manager position that Oden sought.

ADEA


The ADEA protects applicants and employees who are 40 years of age or older from employment discrimination based on age. Under the law, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person because of his or her age with respect to any term, condition, or privilege of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, layoff, compensation, benefits, job assignments, and training. Harassing an older worker because of age is also prohibited.

It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on age or for filing an age discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under the ADEA.

Georgia Age Discrimination Act


The Georgia Age Discrimination Act prohibits employment practices that discriminate on the basis of age (between 40 and 70 years) unless the reasonable demands of the job in question require an age distinction. The Act covers all private employers. Unlike the ADEA, Georgia state law ends protections for older workers at age 70.

Chances for success


It is still too early in the process to gauge Odell’s ultimate chances for success. As far as his individual claim is concerned, the most important factor may be hiring of an apparently less qualified but younger person for the District Manager position. As far as the class claims are concerned, Starbucks’ track record of employment discrimination and unpaid wage claims may weigh heavily against them in showing a pattern or practice of behavior.

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