The two men at the center of the Starbucks controversy appeared on Good Morning America today to talk about the racial bias incident that has gone viral.
When asked what they wanted to see come out of the situation the two men responded:
Donte Robinson: “I want to make sure that this situation doesn’t happen again so what I want [is] for a young man to not be traumatized by this, and instead motivated and inspired.”
Rashon Nelson: “Take this opportunity as a stepping stone to really stand up and show your greatness and that you are not judged by the color of your skin as our ancestors were or anyone else. This has been something that has been going on for years. Everyone is blind to it but they know what is going on, if you get what I mean. You know, just really taking those actions and putting them in place and helping people understand that this is a people thing and that’s exactly what we want to see out of this. True change.”
Their lawyer said they approached Starbucks to enter mediation with a retired federal judge in Philadelphia to address the matter and they have agreed. He said the terms are confidential.
TheGrio reached out to a mediator and lawyers to get their thoughts on what Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson can expect from the mediation efforts.
Rebekah Ratliff, a Civil and Domestic Mediator and Arbitrator in Atlanta and President of Capital City Mediation has worked on countless cases helping attorneys, their clients and the defendants resolve issues.
Ratliff said in light of the Starbucks case gaining so much national attention, Nelson and Robinson were likely asked to go the mediation route to avoid a costly trial for the coffee company which would be a PR disaster.
“It’s a way to avoid the cost, the time and the stress of trial,” Ratliff said. “No they [Starbucks] doesn’t want to go to trial on that. It caught national attention. It’s so popular in the media. Everybody is so outraged.”
And since it’s a civil case, Ratliff says Nelson and Robinson are certainly asking for money to resolved the arrest issue. “It’s clear cut,” she says.
And when it comes to the potential monetary compensation Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson have a lot of factors on their side that could impact the final number.
“There’s what’s happened on camera, they got arrested… there are different components that add value,” she said, which will ultimately determine their payout amount.
In light of “highly driven recent events with African Americans being mistreated by police, there’s a lot of value there to the plaintiffs,” Ratliff said. “Starbucks is doing damage control.”
According to New York City defense attorney Paul Martin, Nelson and Robinson could have a tough road ahead.
“Legally, the amount of damages is nominal,” Martin told TheGrio. “They were held for several hours and charges were dropped.”
But since the viral video which has been viewed over 11 million times, Starbucks has a reason to settle this matter quickly.
“Practically, Starbucks has a public relations issue and will pay a exorbitant amount to make this go away,” Martin says.
Martin does not think Nelson and Robinson have an additional case against the Philadelphia police department. “The police have limited liability, they were called by Starbucks management and asked to remove individuals. The basic uniform officer does not investigate but reacts to calls from public.”
Chris Camper, an attorney and counselor in Detroit, MI specializing in personal injury civil litigation, agrees with Martin. “I do not see a cause of action against the police in this matter. There was a complaint of loitering. Police have discretion in these instances to make an arrest or order individuals off of the premises,” said Camper.
As far as damages, Camper can see the possibility of different mediation scenarios. “Simply put, there are two ways to view a possible resolution of damages in this case; quick and easy or detailed and drawn out,” he said.
“Quick and easy would be a nominal or ‘nuisance’ value because they were held for a few hours and walked out with no charges. Without proof of psychological damage, it’s not worth much,” noted Camper. “The detailed and drawn out version of this would involve the young men building a case for additional damages (mental anguish, ptsd, etc.).”
Sophia Nelson, attorney, corporate trainer, and author “E. Pluribus ONE: Reclaiming Our Founders’ Vision for a United America,” believes that Starbucks has handled this crisis in the best way possible.
“The CEO immediately owned the racial profiling, apologized, and then took unprecedented action by closing 8,000 stores down in May for a mandatory day of bias training,” said Nelson.
“When parties mediate they are looking to avoid litigation. The two men in question, could sue and win a pretty big settlement. Starbucks has admitted guilt. The men were humiliated globally via video by being arrested. It would be a big payday for sure. However, what Starbucks is doing is saying to these men, ‘come be part of the solution and healing.’
Nelson suspects that Starbucks will offer the two young men a private settlement, but then engage them in a way that will help make the company more aware of racial bias against Black men. Doing this actually empowers the men to have a say in future policy and outcomes.
The real champions here, according to Nelson, include the company’s highest ranking Black woman. Nonetheless, she believes the men have a clear set of claims against the Philadelphia Police.
“The CEO, again has been brilliant, as has Rosalind Brewer, the COO of Starbucks. They have managed this responsibly. As to the police men, that is another issue,” said Nelson.
“Two claims jump out at me: False arrest and The Intentional Infliction of Mental Distress. It’s obvious that these men were humiliated by the actions of the police on a video where the entire world has now seen their faces. he police made a bad judgment call. They did not have to arrest two men who were not breaking the law. Instead they cuffed them, took them out and to the police station. Instead, the police should have spoken to the manager and said ‘ma’am these men are waiting for a friend. They are not breaking any rules. We find no evidence of trespassing, so we are leaving the premises.'”