A former Starbucks Corp. district manager fought back tears Tuesday as she told a Los Angeles jury that she was familiar with 20 robberies that occurred within the chain and that she felt compelled to fire a manager trainee in 2015 for violating rules designed to prevent them.
Pam Michno, who has received a promotion since firing 35-year-old Jose Zepeda of South Gate, said he violated company policy by allowing a female customer to remain inside the store where he worked in Redondo Beach after closing time with the doors locked. Michno said the coffee store chain has a strict policy against such conduct so as to prevent holdups.
Michno became emotional when she told the Los Angeles Superior Court panel hearing trial of Zepeda’s disability discrimination lawsuit that she has known employees, who Starbucks labels “partners,” who have been robbed and sexually assaulted. She said she had to gather information on one such holdup as recently as last Friday, when she was first scheduled to testify in Zepeda’s case.
Michno said keeping Starbucks workers safe is the most important thing the company expects of its supervisors. She said she reluctantly fired Zepeda for not complying with the after-hours policy.
“I wanted him to be on my team, I wanted him to be a store manager,” Michno said.
Zepeda told the jury last week that his supervisors increased his workload after he told them he was diabetic and needed accommodations, then retaliated when he complained by firing him.
Zepeda testified that he was out of work for months after his September 2015 firing and was repeatedly turned down by prospective employers after he explained why he lost his job at Starbucks. He said he was eventually hired as a buyer for Weckerle Sales Corp., a Carson cosmetics firm.
Starbucks corporate counsel Richard Lopez said Zepeda locked the doors and allowed the female customer to remain after closing time while he counted company proceeds in the back. Only vendors and Starbucks employees on the clock are permitted in stores after hours so as to prevent robberies, Lopez said.
But Zepeda denied any wrongdoing involving the customer, testifying that she was flirting with another Starbucks employee and was trying to convince that barista to go out with her. Zepeda said the woman was only in the store for about five to seven minutes after closing time and that he stayed by the front door. He said he could not tally the day’s income while the woman was in the store because the safe could not be opened until a certain period of time passed after closing time.
Zepeda said he was hired in September 2013 and that he reported to Michno and to Joelean Perras, who had transferred from Las Vegas in anticipation of becoming the permanent Redondo Beach store manager.
Zepeda said he told Michno during an interview in October 2014 that he had diabetes and needed occasional rest breaks and a chance to stop and eat something in order to deal with his symptoms. The interview was a dry run for another one later in which he could put forth his best case to be a manager, Zepeda said.
Michno responded by telling Zepeda she doubted he could lead a store and that he could have a nervous breakdown, Zepeda testified.
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