For Immediate Release:
Friday, September 2, 2022

Department of Consumer and Worker Protection Files Lawsuit Against Starbucks Seeking Reinstatement of Wrongfully Terminated Employee

Groundbreaking Case Represents the City’s First Lawsuit for a Violation of New York City’s “Just Cause” Protections for Fast Food Workers

NEW YORK, NY – Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) Commissioner Vilda Vera Mayuga today announced that the Department filed a case at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) against the Starbucks Corporation for violating the City’s “just cause” protections against wrongful termination under the Fair Workweek Law. DCWP’s investigation found that Starbucks illegally fired longtime barista and union organizer Austin Locke on July 5, 2022, less than a month after employees at the Astoria Starbucks where he worked voted to join a union. DCWP is seeking Austin Locke’s reinstatement, civil penalties, as well as restitution and back pay required under the law, which continue to accrue until Mr. Locke returns to work.

“As we approach Labor Day, it’s important to remember that workers are the backbone of our city and deserve the right to organize to promote safer and fairer work practices,” said DCWP Commissioner Vilda Vera Mayuga. “Any violation of the City’s Fair Workweek Law is unacceptable. DCWP stands ready to fight for the dignity and respect that all workers deserve from their employers. To all New York City fast food workers, if you believe you have been illegally fired from your workplace, do not hesitate to contact us.”

“It‘s been a year since the campaign with Starbucks Workers United began at a Starbucks in Buffalo, NY,“ said Austin Locke, the complaintant in this case. “There are now 235 unionized Starbucks around the country. Starbucks continues to wrongfully fire pro-union workers nationwide in retaliation for union organizing. Starbucks Workers United demands Starbucks rehire all illegally fired workers and put an end to their illegal union-busting campaign. We also demand that Starbucks come to the bargaining table and negotiate a contract with Starbucks Workers United. No Contract, No Coffee!”

On July 17, 2022, DCWP received a complaint from Austin Locke alleging that Starbucks had illegally fired him, which DCWP quickly investigated. The records and information Starbucks provided during the investigation did not refute or mitigate DCWP’s determination that Starbucks illegally fired Austin Locke.

DCWP is seeking an order requiring that Starbucks:
  • Reinstate Austin Locke and rescind the discipline issued to him
  • Pay Mr. Locke back pay and other compensation for lost work
  • Pay civil penalties as required by the City’s Fair Workweek Law
  • Comply with the City’s Fair Workweek Law going forward
“Protecting workers’ rights to organize and unionize is critical, and employers who try to undermine and violate those rights must be held accountable,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams. “The Council passed Just Cause protections to prevent unfair practices like this. Starbucks’ actions were not just wrong, but illegal, and I applaud the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection for conducting this investigation and taking legal action. As a city, we must continue to safeguard the rights of workers to ensure they have the respect, dignity, and conditions they deserve."

“As we head into Labor Day weekend, it's astonishing that corporations are still punishing employees attempting to unionize for safe work conditions and fair wages. New York City has been and will remain union strong, and terminating an employee for fighting for workers' rights is unconscionable. There is no place for leaders and businesses who go against providing humane, healthy work environments in our City, including Starbucks. As DCWP'S investigation shows, leadership needs to be held accountable,” said Chair of the Committee on Consumer and Worker Protection, Council Member Marjorie Velázquez.

Under the Fair Workweek Law, it is illegal for fast food employers to fire or lay off workers who have completed a probation period of 30 days, or reduce their hours by more than 15 percent, without just cause or a legitimate economic reason. Whenever an employee is discharged or hours reduced by 15 percent or more, the employer must give the worker a notice of discharge in writing within five days which explains the reason. A discharged employee who loses a scheduled shift is entitled to premium pay for each lost shift. Employers and employees can visit or call 311 (212-NEW-YORK outside NYC) for more information about the law, including overview of the law, information about the required progressive discipline policy, templates, and FAQs about the law.

Since the Fair Workweek Law went into effect in November 2017, DCWP has received more than 440 complaints about Fair Workweek, closed more than 220 investigations, and obtained resolutions requiring nearly $24.4 million in combined fines and restitution for more than 17,150 workers.

DCWP’s case was handled by Investigator Haley Shaffer and Senior Staff Counsel John De Vito, under the supervision of DCWP’s Office of Labor Policy & Standards, which is led by Acting Deputy Commissioner Elizabeth Wagoner.

NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) protects and enhances the daily economic lives of New Yorkers to create thriving communities. DCWP licenses more than 51,000 businesses in more than 40 industries and enforces key consumer protection, licensing, and workplace laws that apply to countless more. By supporting businesses through equitable enforcement and access to resources and, by helping to resolve complaints, DCWP protects the marketplace from predatory practices and strives to create a culture of compliance. Through its community outreach and the work of its offices of Financial Empowerment and Labor Policy & Standards, DCWP empowers consumers and working families by providing the tools and resources they need to be educated consumers and to achieve financial health and work-life balance. DCWP also conducts research and advocates for public policy that furthers its work to support New York City’s communities. For more information about DCWP and its work, call 311 or visit DCWP at or on its social media sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

Media Contact:
Michael Lanza | Sheyla Navarro
Department of Consumer and Worker Protection
(212) 436-0042