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Business

Starbucks changes bathroom policy following racial firestorm

FILE - In this March 22, 2017 file photo, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting in Seattle. Schultz says the company will now allow people to use bathrooms at its coffee shops even if they don’t buy anything, as it continues to take a closer look at its operations following the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia shop. Schulz discussed the new policy while he spoke at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Schultz said the company previously had a “loose policy” that only paying customers be allowed to use bathrooms, but that it was up to each store manager to decide. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
FILE - In this March 22, 2017 file photo, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks at the Starbucks annual shareholders meeting in Seattle. Schultz says the company will now allow people to use bathrooms at its coffee shops even if they don’t buy anything, as it continues to take a closer look at its operations following the arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia shop. Schulz discussed the new policy while he spoke at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Thursday, May 10, 2018. Schultz said the company previously had a “loose policy” that only paying customers be allowed to use bathrooms, but that it was up to each store manager to decide. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

WASHINGTON – Starbucks has adopted an open-bathroom policy following the arrest last month of two African American men at a coffee shop in Philadelphia.

Chairman Howard Schultz says he doesn't want the company to become a public bathroom, but feels employees can make the "right decision a hundred percent of the time," if that choice is removed at the store level.

One of the men arrested on April 12 was denied use of a bathroom. He and his partner sat down to await a business meeting they had scheduled at the store, but were arrested minutes later by police.

The incident was captured by people using cell phones and it went viral.

The arrest of Rashon Nelson, along with his childhood friend and business partner, Donte Robinson, set off a firestorm for the company, which will shut down more than 8,000 of its U.S. stores on the afternoon of May 29 to instruct 175,000 employees how to better recognize unconscious bias.

Access to store bathrooms, for which Schultz said Starbucks had maintained a "loose policy," came into even sharper focus after another video, taken in January, emerged. The video shows a black man claiming he was denied access to a bathroom at a Starbucks in California while a white man was allowed entry. Neither man had made a purchase, according to the video shot by Brandon Ward, which is posted on his Facebook page.

Schultz, speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington on Thursday, said previous policy required a purchase, but that the decision was ultimately left with store managers, The Washington, The Seattle Times, and other media outlets reported.

The arrests in Philadelphia were a major embarrassment for Starbucks, which has long projected itself as a socially conscious company.

Nelson and Robinson settled with Starbucks earlier this month for an undisclosed sum and an offer of a free college education. Separately, they reached a deal with Philadelphia for a symbolic $1 each and a promise from city officials to set up a $200,000 program for young entrepreneurs.

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