Starbucks Corp was sued on Monday by eight employees at a unionised South Carolina store who said the company falsely accused them of criminal conduct after they demanded a raise from their manager.
The workers filed a lawsuit in South Carolina state court against Starbucks and the manager at the store in Anderson, a few miles from Clemson University. They claimed the manager urged police to charge them with assault and kidnapping after the workers pressed her for a raise in August.
The store's employees had voted 18-0 to unionise in June.
At least 240 other Starbucks in the US have unionised over the past year, and the company has been accused of illegal labour practices at dozens of locations. Starbucks has denied wrongdoing.
Starbucks did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, the Anderson workers on Aug 1 presented the manager with a letter calling for a raise. She then called a Starbucks district manager and falsely claimed the workers were preventing her from leaving the store, the plaintiffs claim.
The manager reported the incident to law enforcement two days later, prompting a weeks-long investigation that included police visiting some of the workers' homes, according to the lawsuit.
The local sheriff's office ultimately concluded the workers had done nothing illegal, the plaintiffs said.
Starbucks released a statement on Aug 8 saying the manager had felt unsafe and the workers were suspended with pay pending an investigation.
The plaintiffs in Monday's lawsuit said the statement falsely suggested they had threatened the manager and engaged in criminal conduct.
The workers accused Starbucks of defamation and abusing the legal process in violation of state law. They are seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.