Roasted: The Lawsuits Faced by America’s Biggest Coffee Chain

In a November 2023 press release, ubiquitous coffee chain Starbucks unveiled its plan for a “limitless future” – the “Triple Shot Reinvention with two pumps plan.” The plan, itself a step on 2022’s plan to “refound” the company, features cost-cutting and expansion, but also centers the workforce (partners, in Starbucks vernacular). This could be a nod to the ongoing unionization campaign affecting its stores.

Litigation, though, does not appear to be following the headlines – Docket Alarm analytics indicate that, at least in federal court, labor and employment litigation is not dominant.

Starbucks is one of America’s biggest businesses, and one of its biggest exports, with 38,000 cafes worldwide as of last year. Indeed, with such a large physical footprint, nearly a quarter of federal lawsuits faced by the coffeehouse chain concern personal injury matters, cases that likely occur on company premises or result from its products.

The runner-up case type (using the federal government’s Nature of Suit classification system) is Americans with Disabilities Act cases, a category which could concern the company’s physical locations or its website.

Civil rights cases related to employment is an increasing share of litigation faced by Starbucks, though – and labor cases are on the rise too.

There’s another indicator, too – in federal court since 2019, employment-focused law firm Littler Mendelson has consistently represented Starbucks more than any other firm. Other top firms include Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, Burnham Brown, and Goldberg Segalla.

However, despite the indications that employment litigation is an increasing factor for the company, there does not appear to be a significant upward trend overall federal litigation faced by the company.

Geographically, the lawsuits that Starbucks faces generally correspond to the most densely populated regions of the country. The Central District of California, the most populous in the country, is home to the greatest number of lawsuits against Starbucks. The Southern District of New York (containing parts of New York City) is the runner-up, and other California and New York jurisdictions round out the top five. The Western District of Washington, based in Seattle and home to the company’s headquarters, is in seventh place.

As the unionization campaign continues, and Starbucks proceeds on its plan to reinvent itself in line with the social changes in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the kinds of legal challenges it faces may similarly evolve.