The workers filed a lawsuit in South Carolina state court against Starbucks and the manager at the store in Anderson, a few miles from Clemson University. They claimed the manager urged police to charge them with assault and kidnapping after the workers pressed her for a raise in August.
The store’s employees had voted 18—0 to unionize in June.
At least 240 other Starbucks in the United States have unionized over the past year, and the company has been accused of illegal labor practices at dozens of locations. Starbucks has denied wrongdoing.
Starbucks in a statement provided by a spokesperson said it was reviewing the lawsuit.
“No Starbucks partner has been or will be disciplined for supporting or engaging in lawful union activity—but interest in a union does not exempt partners from following policies and procedures that apply to all partners,” the company said.
According to the complaint, the Anderson workers on Aug. 1 presented the manager with a letter calling for a raise. She then called a Starbucks district manager and falsely claimed the workers were preventing her from leaving the store, the plaintiffs claim.
The manager reported the incident to law enforcement two days later, prompting a weeks-long investigation that included police visiting some of the workers’ homes, according to the lawsuit.
The local sheriff’s office ultimately concluded the workers had done nothing illegal, the plaintiffs said.
Starbucks released a statement on Aug. 8 saying the manager had felt unsafe and the workers were suspended with pay pending an investigation.
The plaintiffs in Monday’s lawsuit said the statement falsely suggested they had threatened the manager and engaged in criminal conduct.
The workers accused Starbucks of defamation and abusing the legal process in violation of state law. They are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
By Daniel Wiessner