A federal judge in Tennessee has ordered Starbucks to offer to reinstate seven fired baristas following a union organizing drive at a store in Memphis.

The employees, referred to as the Memphis Seven, were fired following an in-store media interview about the store's organizing efforts earlier this year. Starbucks said this violated company policy, but the union, Starbucks Workers United, claims this was all in retaliation for the union drive.

Officials with the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency responsible for enforcing U.S. labor laws, viewed this as retaliation as well and brought the coffee giant to court.

U.S. District Judge Sheryl Lipman on Thursday agreed, saying Starbucks failed to prove that it enforced similar company policies elsewhere and in similar situations.

Lipman said in her order that the NLRB "provides evidence consistent with the theory that Starbucks discriminatorily applied its policies to the Memphis Seven when terminating them."

Starbucks has to offer those workers their jobs back within five days, Lipman ordered. The company also must expunge those employees' disciplinary actions and cease and desist from any other anti-union practices.

Starbucks said in a statement Thursday that it plans to appeal this decision and request a stay of the order pending appeal.

"We strongly disagree with the judge's ruling in this case. These individuals violated numerous policies and failed to maintain a secure work environment and safety standards," the company said. "Interest in a union does not exempt partners from following policies that are in place to protect partners, our customers and the communities we serve."

The Memphis Starbucks employees voted for union representation by Workers United earlier this summer and the NLRB certified this election on June 15.

Starbucks has fought against efforts to unionize its stores. Earlier this month, the retail giant accused NLRB employees of coordinating with union organizers during an election in Overland Park, Kansas, earlier this year.

The first Starbucks union was formed in Buffalo, New York, a year ago, launching what has since become a nationwide organizing campaign in the country's largest coffee chain.

The NLRB claimed in court in June that Starbucks unlawfully fired seven other employees at shops in Buffalo and engaged in illegal anti-union activities to dissuade workers from organizing.

Starbucks Workers United says more than 200 of the company's stores in the U.S. are now unionized.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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