When we started reading this sentence Thursday, “Two black men arrested for sitting at a Philadelphia Starbucks without ordering anything,” we figured we knew how it would end. That the men, entrepreneurs Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, had filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Philadelphia and Starbucks for this injustice. Or that they were cruising the talk show circuit to air grievances and star in rallies.
We were mistaken.
Instead, that sentence ended with an unexpected — and profoundly welcome — twist: Nelson and Robinson settled with Philadelphia for $1 each. No zeros. City officials promised to set up a $200,000 pilot program to help young entrepreneurs in underserved communities. One element of that program is training in financial literacy.
“We thought long and hard about it, and we feel like this is the best way to see that change that we want to see,” Robinson said. “It’s not a right-now thing that’s good for right now, but I feel like we will see the true change over time.”
You don’t hear sentiments like that often in America’s gimme-gimme litigation-wild system where a spilled cup of hot coffee — let alone a cup not ordered! — can provoke a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.
For its part, Starbucks agreed to an undisclosed financial settlement, and to pay for the two men to complete bachelor’s degrees via a pre-existing Starbucks partnership with Arizona State University.
Our verdict: Every participant in this deal is a winner. Aspiring Philadelphia entrepreneurs gain assistance, Starbucks expiates its insult and two men help not only themselves but others in struggling communities.
Yes, we know some advocates may view this swift settlement — three weeks, start to finish — as a capitulation by the city and the chain.
But we see a different equation: The company and the city were responsible for an injustice. Robinson and Nelson were sitting at a table, waiting for a colleague to join them. One asked to use the bathroom but hadn’t bought anything. The incident led to the two being handcuffed, accused of trespassing and spending hours in jail — a stain on Starbucks and Philadelphia.
This could have been a long, protracted and ugly trail of litigation. Could have been a cause célèbre to raise money for all sorts of organizations.
Evidently none of that is happening. The incident “evoked a lot of pain in our city, pain that would have resurfaced over and over again in protracted litigation,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement.
Instead of fighting, the city and the company did the right thing: They made amends. Without apparent rancor. Quickly.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE