NYC Just Cause Law Reinstated Starbucks Worker

What NYC Employers Should Understand About Just Cause

The NYC Just Cause Law went into effect in July, 2021 for the fast food industry in the Big Apple. Recently, a case involving a Starbucks worker showed how the law has changed the legal landscape for fast food workers and employers.

Details of the Starbuck’s Case and the NYC Just Cause Law

Seven months ago, Starbucks fired a worker named Austin Locke at their Queens store. According to an article in Jacobin,, Starbucks had targeted Locke for his involvement in a union organizing drive. However, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was not the agency that obtained his reinstatement. The New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) brought the lawsuit on his behalf. They argued that his termination had violated the Just Cause Law. Firing him without just cause was illegal for a fast food facility.

Note that employers in the NYC fast food industry can no longer fire employees at-will.

In Locke’s case the reasons given by Starbucks for his termination were twofold:

  • Falsely reporting workplace violence
  • Missing part of a multipart COVID screening protocol

A video exonerated Locke on the first allegation. Evidence regarding the second allegation showed that employees regularly breached the protocol, but he was the only one fired because of it.

Other cases brought against NYC employers based on just cause

The Just Cause Law along with the Fair Workweek Law (passed in 2017) have resulted in substantial protection for fast-food workers. Statistics show:

  • 230 investigations have examined potential violations
  • The laws have resulted in nearly $27.1 million in restitution and fines for more than 20,100 workers
  • Based on violations, Chipotle paid $20 million in September 2022

New York City employers in the fast-food restaurant industry and other fast-food services, such as Starbucks should ensure proper policies are in place. It is vital to train management in the new laws for compliance and to protect your businesses.

As an employer, do you have legal questions about just cause termination?

If you have questions or concerns, it is wise to get a legal opinion. You can consult with our attorneys at Stephen D. Hans & Associates, P.C. We are glad to provide you with experienced legal guidance. Call (718) 275-6500 to arrange an appointment.