Eight unionized Starbucks employees at a location in Anderson, South Carolina, filed a lawsuit Monday against the company and their store manager for defamation and abuse of process. The manager alleged Aug. 3 that the plaintiff workers kidnapped and assaulted her Aug. 1, according to a complaint obtained by Restaurant Dive. On Aug. 1, workers asked the manager for changes in working conditions at the Starbucks store, according to a widely disseminated video of the incident.
The workers claim the manager’s police report and Starbucks’ statements “were not made for a proper purpose for which the legal process was intended, but instead for the illegitimate collateral purpose of preventing Plaintiffs from publicly protesting Starbucks.”
The Anderson Sheriff’s Office investigated a criminal complaint filed by the manager, and told The State, a local news outlet, that none of the manager’s statements were true. Eleven employees were suspended with pay between Aug. 6 and Oct. 1 while the sheriff’s investigation was ongoing, according to The State. Starbucks released a statement Aug. 8 asserting the manager felt unsafe, though the statement did not accuse the workers of kidnapping and assault.
The unionized employees impacted by the manager’s accusations claim the statements meet a legal definition of defamation. Their suit alleged Starbucks statements insinuated workers had engaged in threatening behavior and criminal conduct, and that the police report filed by the manager was an abuse of the legal process.
The suit asks for compensatory and punitive damages, and other relief a court may find appropriate. Starbucks did not respond for a request for comment before press time.