Bloomberg Law
March 2, 2023, 10:30 AM

Starbucks Turns to Acting Ethics Chief After Executive Departs

Brian Baxter
Brian Baxter

Starbucks Corp. has tapped one of its attorneys, Shelly Ranus, to serve as acting chief ethics and compliance officer after the executive who filled that role left.

Ranus has taken on that new position as the Seattle-based coffee chain battles union organizing efforts and staff protests. She was most recently an assistant general counsel for brand protection at Starbucks.

The move follows the departure last month of Tyson Avery, a deputy general counsel who had been compliance and ethics chief at Starbucks since 2019.

Starbucks is facing increased regulatory scrutiny as it copes with the fallout from alleged union-busting efforts involving baristas at its stores. Dozens of white-collar workers and managers at Starbucks signed an open letter protesting the company’s policies toward retail employees and a new return-to-office policy.

Starbucks declined to discuss the Ranus promotion, which was confirmed by a person familiar with the matter. Ranus and Avery didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Ranus joined Starbucks 16 years ago after serving as a Milwaukee-based partner in the employment law group at Gonzalez Saggio & Harlan, which closed its doors in 2016. At its height, Gonzalez Saggio was one of the largest minority-owned US law firms. Ranus is affiliated with the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity.

Her past roles at Starbucks involved overseeing employment law, labor relations, and human resources practices.

Avery joined Starbucks three years ago after serving as compliance and ethics chief and global director of internal audit at real estate services company CBRE Group Inc. He previously was a director of ethics and compliance at manufacturer ITT Inc., as well as a White House ethics counsel in the second Bush administration and judge advocate in the US Marine Corps.

He was a member of the executive leadership team at Starbucks, which removed his biography page from the company’s website last week, according to archived internet records.

Labor Fights

Starbucks has been involved in an ongoing battle with the National Labor Relations Board over its termination of union organizers. An NLRB judge ruled Wednesday that the company illegally fired six employees in New York State “in response to union activity.”

Labor and employment-related disputes made up more than 20% of the cases involving Starbucks in US federal courts within the past three years, according to Bloomberg Law data. During that time Littler Mendelson and Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, two law firms known for their labor and employment expertise, had a role on roughly 32% of Starbucks’ federal litigation docket.

Robyn Funk, an Ogletree Deakins special counsel seconded a year ago to Starbucks, was hired by the company last month as a director and corporate counsel for labor and employment.

Starbucks currently has an acting general counsel in Zabrina Jenkins, who took over the company’s top legal role last year after it parted ways with former legal chief Rachel Gonzalez.

Gonzalez, who received nearly $11.7 million in total compensation after leaving Starbucks, was replaced by Jenkins after the company brought back its founder Howard Schultz for a third stint as CEO. Schultz is poised to step aside himself for Laxman Narasimhan, who will take over as CEO on April 1.

Jenkins and Jennifer Kraft, a deputy general counsel and corporate secretary at Starbucks, are the two remaining lawyers on the company’s leadership team.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at; John Hughes at

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