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Starbucks’ Top Lawyer Got $5.3 Million in Year of Union Fights

Jan. 31, 2022, 8:39 PM

Starbucks Corp. legal chief Rachel Gonzalez received more than $5.3 million in total compensation last year, one in which the company faced a growing movement to unionize workers at its coffee shops.

The Seattle-based chain disclosed Gonzalez’s compensation in a Jan. 28 chain annual proxy statement. The company cited her role addressing shareholder concerns over executive compensation, improving stakeholder engagement, and collaboration with respect to environmental, social, and governance matters in its rationale for her 2021 pay package.

Gonzalez received more than $1.7 million in cash compensation—comprised of nearly $753,000 in base salary and $971,500 in non-equity incentive plan compensation—as well as almost $3.6 million in stock awards.

Starbucks hired Gonzalez to be its general counsel in 2018 from her prior role as legal chief for travel technology company Sabre Corp. Gonzalez had not previously been listed as among the top five or six highest-paid executives at Starbucks in its annual proxy filings. She didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Starbucks has turned to labor and employment-focused law firm Littler Mendelson, a frequent adviser to restaurant industry employers, to represent it within the past year on a growing unionization drive by workers at some corporate-run coffee shops in certain U.S. states. Littler had a role on nearly 12% of Starbucks’ U.S. federal litigation portfolio over the last five years, according to Bloomberg Law data.

Gonzalez, who also previously served as general counsel for Dean Foods Co. and was a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, currently owns roughly $10.2 million in Starbucks stock, according to Bloomberg data. Starbucks securities filings show that she sold off about $9.1 million in company stock last year.

Gonzalez’s compensation is higher than the $4.4 million that AmerisourceBergen Corp.’s retired legal chief John Chou earned last year. It pales in comparison to the nearly $17 million that Walt Disney Co.’s former general counsel Alan Braverman received and the $27 million paid to Apple Inc. general counsel Katherine Adams.

In the food and restaurant space, proxy filings show that Gonzalez’s remuneration was on par with Tyson Foods Inc. legal chief and global governance and corporate affairs head Amy Tu, who earned more than $4.7 million in 2021. Food service giant Aramark paid nearly $1.2 million to its general counsel Lauren Harrington last year, while Flanigan’s Enterprises Inc.—owner of South Florida restaurant chain Flanigan’s—paid over $1.5 million to chief financial and legal officer Jeffrey Kastner.

Diversity Leadership

Gonzalez is a member of the Hispanic National Bar Association’s Poder25 initiative, which seeks to increase the number of Latinos serving as law department leaders at Fortune 1000 companies by 2025.

Starbucks, in its most recent proxy, cited Gonzalez’s “leadership in diversity activities” and monthly mentoring sessions with employees that are Black, Indigenous, or people of color in its evaluation of her job performance.

Gonzalez took over as legal chief at Starbucks four years ago from former general counsel Lucy Lee Helm, who the company promoted to the position of chief partner officer, a role that put her in charge of an internal group that provided increased benefits to Starbucks store employees.

Helm retired from Starbucks in December 2020, a year in which she received more than $4.4 million in total compensation, per a company proxy statement. Starbucks hired Helm in 1999 as its first in-house litigator.

Helm in 2013 replaced Paula Boggs, a former U.S. Army paratrooper who held the top legal role at Starbucks for a decade. Boggs was an early advocate for diversity and inclusion in the corporate legal world.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com