Starbucks Corp., facing a growing unionization movement in the US from baristas and other retail employees, paid nearly $11.7 million to its former general counsel Rachel Gonzalez last year.
Gonzalez, who was replaced after Starbucks brought back its chairman emeritus Howard Schultz for a third stint as CEO, was involuntarily terminated as of April 4, 2022. She remained a senior adviser to Starbucks through May 20 of last year, during which time the company reduced by 50% her annual base salary of $725,000.
Starbucks disclosed in a proxy statement filed Jan. 27 that its former top lawyer received about $440,200 in base salary, more than $3.6 million in stock awards, and roughly $7.6 million in other compensation last year. That sum was more than double the $5.3 million pay package given to Gonzalez in fiscal 2021.
Gonzalez, now serving as a board observer at Vacasa Inc., said in an interview last year that she remains a loyal Starbucks customer. The terms of her separation deal call for Starbucks to pay up to $8 million to Gonzalez, who was hired in 2018.
Her exit came as Starbucks reshuffled its executive management—veteran in-house lawyer Zabrina Jenkins remains acting general counsel—in the face of mounting labor woes, including walkouts and union organization efforts in its stores.
The coffee chain had at least 107 strikes during 2022, a year in which the US had its most work stoppages since 2005. The retail sector was by far the most active industry for those labor disputes.
Starbucks has sought to recruit in-house labor and employment expertise to help it cope with the union activity surge.
The Seattle-based company hired former National Labor Relations Board field attorney Daniel Mueller this month as a director and corporate counsel for labor. He spent the past decade working for Catholic health care giant Providence Health & Services.
Mueller is one of at least a half-dozen labor lawyers that Starbucks has hired internally within the past two years. The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about its latest legal hiring efforts—a Starbucks spokeswoman said last year it had backfilled roles vacated by departures.
Littler Mendelson and Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart have collectively handled more than 70% of labor and employment cases involving Starbucks filed in US federal courts within the past five years, according to Bloomberg Law data.
Jackson Lewis and Seyfarth Shaw, two other law firms known for their large labor practices, have also represented Starbucks during that time.
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