Philly Starbucks Allowed to Close Public Bathrooms After

  • Starbucks staffers in Philadelphia are permitted to close public bathrooms in the event of safety concerns. 
  • The shift comes after the company enacted an open-bathroom policy in 2018 following the arrest of two Black men. 
  • According to a Starbucks spokesperson, the Philadelphia shift is “not a change of policy” and instead a reiteration of existing policy that empowers employees to maintain safety.

Starbucks employees in Philadelphia can now close public bathrooms for perceived safety concerns — an apparent shift from the company’s existing open-bathroom policy.

As first reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the ability to close the facilities is a departure from the company’s open-bathroom policy, enacted in 2018 following the controversial arrest of two Black men at a downtown Philadelphia Starbucks.

It also comes just days after the company announced it will close 16 U.S. locations with “a high volume of challenging incidents that make it unsafe to continue to operate,” Insider reported. 

In May 2018, the two men settled a lawsuit with Starbucks for an undisclosed sum after they were arrested on trespassing charges while waiting for someone for a business meeting. According to officials, the two men walked in and sat down, but then were denied use of the restrooms because they had not purchased anything. They were then asked to leave.

When they refused, a staff member called the police and the men were arrested on suspicion of trespassing, charges that were later dropped by Starbucks. The incident prompted national outcry against the coffee chain, leading then-CEO Kevin Johnson to publicly apologize and mandate anti-bias training for all staffers. 

According to a Starbucks spokesperson, the Philadelphia shift is “not a change of policy”, but instead a reiteration of existing policy that allows employees to maintain safety by closing bathrooms on a case-by-case basis. 

In a statement shared to the Starbucks website earlier this week, Debbie Stroud and Denise Nelson, senior vice presidents of U.S. operations, explained how the company plans to improve workplace safety, noting “creating a safe, welcoming, and kind third place is our top priority.”

“We hear the challenges facing you in stores, and we all have a lot more to still figure out — but we know we’ll get there because YOU have shown us, time and again, that our stores can be a place of hope, optimism and community for all,” they wrote. 

The shift in Philadelphia comes after Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz last month said the company was reconsidering the open-bathroom policy. “We have to harden our stores and provide safety for our people,” he told the New York Times. “I don’t know if we can keep our bathrooms open.”

His comments are a departure from his statement in 2018 after the Philadelphia incident when Schultz was executive chairman.

“We don’t want to become a public bathroom, but we’re going to make the right decision 100% of the time and give people the key, because we don’t want anyone at Starbucks to feel as if we are not giving access to you to the bathroom because you are less than,” Schultz said at the time.