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Ex-Starbucks employee sues chain for wrongful termination after stopping attempted robbery

A former Starbucks employee is suing the coffee chain, saying he was wrongly terminated after he confronted robbers at his store.

NBC affiliate KSDK of St. Louis reported that Michael Harris, 20, was working a drive-thru shift last month when, he said, two men entered the store and began frisking customers.

When the two men demanded cash from the register, Harris said, he tried to open it. At that point, one of the robbers hit him on the head with a gun.

“I thought I was gonna die that day. … They walked in, announced that it was a robbery,” Harris recalled, according to the station.

He said he felt emboldened to stand his ground when he realized the gun was fake, the station reported, noticing that the trigger had fallen off.

“That’s when we noticed and started to fight back,” Harris said.

Eventually, one of the men took off; Harris and another co-worker were able to restrain the other until police arrived, the station reported.

But weeks after the incident, Harris said, he got a call saying he was being fired.

“They terminated me,” he said. “They didn’t really give me a reason why I was terminated. They just told me I was, and I just had to accept it.”

In a statement, Starbucks said it was “deeply disturbed to learn of this frightening incident. Partner safety is at the core of how we operate in our stores, and we are so grateful that our partners and customers did not come to greater harm in this situation.’

The company said all employees “are expected to follow our carefully crafted protocols to ensure the safety of customers and partners during these situations. In situations like this, our training and protocols guide our partners to comply and de-escalate, not just for their safety but for the safety of all in the store.”

Harris and his attorneys said Starbucks’ policy is unfair.

“There’s no way that an individual can be faced with danger, attempted potential death of themselves or another, and then once they’ve been hit or downed that they cannot defend themselves,” attorney Ryan Krupp said.

The incident echoes one last summer in which Lululemon fired employees at one of the chain’s outlets after they confronted robbers.

The National Retail Federation said in a statement Thursday that acts of violence have no place in retail stores. 

“The number one priority for retailers is ensuring the safety and security of both customers and workers,’ it said, noting retailers provide their teams with trainings like Starbucks’ to prevent or de-escalate situations that may result in confrontation and that partnerships with law enforcement are also designed to help resolve such incidents.

“Threats, violence and protest will not deter a retailer’s commitment to protecting the health and safety of the customers they serve and the people they employ,” the federation said.

But the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union said in a statement that while retail workers should never be asked to directly confront shoplifters, ‘there’s tons of nuance to each situation and a simple ‘don’t fight back’ is not enough.’

‘Workers need to be trained in addressing all the various forms of risks they could encounter,’ said the group, which does not represent Harris. ”Don’t fight back’ is not training. Workers need to be trained.’

This post appeared first on NBC NEWS

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