Greg Manco and his attorneys are hoping a recent multi-million dollar jury award in a Philadelphia Starbucks case will weigh in their favor as Manco continues his lawsuit against St. Joseph’s for allegedly firing him over a tweet about racial reparations.
Manco had been a visiting professor at St. Joe’s for seventeen years when he authored a tweet about racial reparations from a private account in February 2021. After a small social media backlash broke out in response, St. Joe’s launched an investigation into the math professor that lasted until the end of the semester that spring.
Even though the university investigation found no wrongdoing, St. Joe’s later declined to renew Manco’s contract, opting instead to make him an adjunct professor — in essence making him a contractor as opposed to a full-time employee.
When Manco sued, the university fired him.
READ MORE — Questionable expenses keep mounting for Hero Thrill Show Inc.
But Manco and his legal team believe a good omen dropped in their laps this month when a federal jury in Camden awarded a former Starbucks manager $25 million after she was sacked in the wake of a racial controversy in which two black men were arrested in a Philly coffee shop. And that omen came just as the judge in Manco’s case had entertained oral arguments on motions to dismiss Manco’s lawsuit.
“The plaintiff in [the Starbucks case], like Dr. Manco, was of Caucasian race and brought forth a claim of reverse race discrimination under Title VII against her former employer,” Manco’s legal team wrote to the judge hearing their case after arguments to dismiss the case had been heard.
The letter also noted when the judge in the Starbucks case allowed the lawsuit to go forward, “the district court held that the [fired Starbucks manager] had offered evidence that could lead a jury to conclude that Starbucks had discriminated against some Caucasian employees based on their race.”
One April afternoon in 2018, two black men entered a Center City Starbucks and sat in the coffee shop waiting for a friend without ordering anything. When they tried to use the restroom, they were informed restrooms were only for paying customers. Various news reports say employees asked the men to leave, telling them they could be trespassing if they didn’t comply.
Someone at the coffee shop eventually called police, and the pair was arrested. When the arrests were recorded by a bystander and posted to social media, it launched an instant national outcry.
Protesters demanded Starbucks fire the manager of the store.
Shannon Phillips was a regional manager for the coffee chain at the time, and was not at that particular Starbucks when the incident unfolded. But she was fired weeks later for what Starbucks claimed was a “complete absence of leadership during this crisis.”
When she filed suit in 2019, Phillips and her lawyers argued Starbucks “took steps to punish white employees who had not been involved in the arrests, but who worked in and around the city of Philadelphia, in an effort to convince the community that it had properly responded to the incident.”
Manco and his lawyers feel the incident is a close analogy to his 2021 departure from St. Joe’s.
“Suppose your great-great-grandfather murdered someone,” he tweeted on Feb. 17, 2021. “The victim’s great-great-grandson knocks on your door, shows you the newspaper clipping from 1905, and demands compensation from you. Your response? Now get this racist reparation bulls*** out of your head for good,” he tweeted from an account that did not use his name directly.
After some alumni who discovered the account belonged to Manco began to tag the university, the university placed Manco on leave and launched an investigation.
Some opposed to Manco launched a Change.org petition, part of which said, “This man should not be given an investigation, he should be fired for his remarks and actions.”
At the end of the spring semester that year, the university issued a statement that did not clear Manco, but also didn’t definitively condemn him, either.
“The potential outcomes of an investigation include a finding of more likely than not that a violation of policy occurred, a finding of more likely than not that a violation of policy did not occur, or no determination could be made. In this case, a definitive determination could not be made due to insufficient evidence,” Gail Benner, a communications officer with the university, said at the time.
READ MORE — Delco Republicans sue County Council over changes to election code
Manco said the university violated its own policies by removing him from the classroom during the investigation and by skirting its own procedures intended to provide due process in contentious circumstances like his.
When the university didn’t renew Manco’s full-time contract, it said the move was related to budgetary pressures and shifting enrollment needs, and had nothing to do with the controversial tweet.
Undeterred, Manco sued.
His original complaint noted that one of the persons he alleges drummed up the most notice to the university over his tweet was a former student who received a failing grade in his course.
With that detail, St. Joe’s fired Manco, claiming he had violated student privacy laws by divulging a grade.
Now comes the $25 million verdict in favor of Phillips, which generated headlines nationwide.
“The verdict confirms that the protections of Title VII extend equally to employees of all races and suggests a newfound readiness of juries to adjudicate these divisive claims in favor of non-minority plaintiffs,” Manco’s lawyers wrote.
Just as Starbucks faced having its reputation tarnished for allegations of racism, St. Joe’s had also been under fire from its student body for the same reasons.
In 2018, a racial slur left on a student’s dorm room door launched a days-long controversy culminating in a sit-in. Mark Reed, the University President at the time, apologized for the administration’s handling of the situation.
In 2019, another column ran in the student newspaper, The Hawk, in which several students alleged many faculty members were routinely insensitive to minorities whose first language was not English.
“No one is going to call [the professors] out. No one can call them out,” one student was quoted as saying.
Also in 2019, the university held a campus-wide forum to discuss racism on campus, especially in response to allegations of new incidents from the fall of that year.
St. Joe’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment to the letter filed by Manco’s attorney’s this week. Since the lawsuit was launched, the university has largely declined to comment with any detail given that the case is still pending.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at email@example.com, or use his encrypted email at firstname.lastname@example.org. @shepherdreports