(Reuters) — A New York City agency that oversees workplace affairs said on Friday it has sued Starbucks Corp., alleging the coffee chain illegally fired a longtime barista and union organizer shortly after employees at his store voted to join a trade union.
The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection called the case brought by Austin Locke, a Starbucks employee of more than five years, the city’s first for violating “just cause” protections under a 2017 law meant to protect fast-food workers.
The Fair Workweek Act prohibits fast food workers from firing or terminating workers, or reducing their hours by more than 15%, without just cause or legitimate financial reasons.
According to a petition filed with the city̵7;s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, Starbucks fired Mr. Locke on July 5, a month after employees at his store in the Astoria section of Queens decided to unionize.
The lawsuit seeks restitution and restitution from Mr. Lockes, as well as civil penalties.
A Starbucks spokeswoman said the Seattle-based company does not discuss ongoing litigation but plans to defend itself against claims it violated the law.
The petition said Starbucks claimed it fired Mr. Locke because he failed to fill out a questionnaire required by its COVID-19 protocol, and falsely reported that a supervisor made unwanted contact during a dispute by placing his hand on Mr. Locke’s chest.
Both incidents took place two days after the union vote, the petition said.
In a statement from the city, Mr. Locke said, “Starbucks continues to wrongfully fire pro-union workers across the country in retaliation for union organizing.”
He urged Starbucks to negotiate a contract with Starbucks Workers United, which represents employees at more than 200 stores.