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Starbucks: Sued for Discrimination…Again
By: Heather Ewert
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The Seattle-based coffee chain hasn’t had a good run in the media lately.

Several years ago, Starbucks was sued by a former network engineer for allowing racist comments and harassment in the workplace. Although the network engineer filed complaints with HR, nothing came of it. He sued, and the company settled for $120,000 to avoid further litigation fees.

Earlier this year, Starbucks was sued because assistant managers thought that they deserved tips (which are primarily meant for the baristas) split with them as well. While the assistant managers were salaried, full-time employees, baristas were not. The court did say that the baristas must share with shift supervisors, who also provided customer service, but left it up to the Federal courts to decide on whether the salaried managers could dip into the pot.

Now, Starbucks has another lawsuit on its hands: a group of Deaf customers allege that they were mocked for the way they spoke and were nearly kicked out of the store for holding a meeting called “Deaf Chat Coffee.” The lawsuit states that the police were called on a group of 16 Deaf patrons, some of whom bought coffee and pastries, for gathering unlawfully. After the police arrived, they determined that Deaf Chat Coffee was not a threat, and they warned the Starbucks employees to not waste their time again.

Take into consideration that this is among news that Starbucks employees have drawn racist caricatures on cups. So now Starbucks has made fun of customers, ignored racist treatment of employees and customers, and they’ve called the cops on a group of Deaf individuals who wanted to hold a meeting. Because no one sits around at Starbucks and talks, or writes, or does job interviews, or…well, you get the idea.

What does this mean for the brand? Well, honestly, I’m not too sure it’s going to make any difference at all. While they may settle the lawsuit again, as they did in the case of the network engineer, I suspect the brand won’t take much flak. Those who already like Starbucks are going to shrug it off and continue to purchase the $6 coffees, while those who are outraged by this may boycott it, but they’ll be small in number. I expect a flimsy apology, and the case will be brushed under the rug until the next bout of discrimination begins, which at this rate, I suppose will be fairly soon. Ultimately, the power of the company supersedes the negative impact of the lawsuits. But that doesn’t mean that they should completely ignore these cases.

Step up your game, Starbucks. Hire people at fair wages and they won’t fight over change in the tip jar. Follow through on discrimination allegations so that you don’t directly contradict your global brand image. Fire every barista, shift manager, assistant manager, and even store manager who participates in discriminatory practice. Invest in more tolerance training and show that you’re taking strides to promote an inclusive, positive work environment. You have the power to influence your customer base — even young potential customers — on a global level. Use it well.


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About the Author
Heather Ewert is a content writer for an internet marketing company. She enjoys creative writing as well and blogs in her personal time at http://infernoofcool.wordpress.com/. She lives in sunny Southern California with her boyfriend, Snowshoe kitty, and her collection of Warcraft novels.
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