Gorilla Coffee Sues New York Times For Posting Worker Walkout Letter

Gorilla Coffee, the coffee shop where eight employees jointly quit over protests about working conditions, is suing the New York Times for publishing their resignation letter. The Times reporter and the eight ex-workers were also named in the suit, which claims the epistle was defamatory and caused them to lose business.

First Amendment litigator Martin Garbus has agreed to represent the workers, along with workers’ rights organization Brandworkers.

“Retaliatory, anti-speech lawsuits like the one from Gorilla Coffee have the potential to both harm innocent people who choose to speak out and chill the speech of others who would like to make their voices heard,” said Garbus. “This lawsuit is without merit and will be defended vigorously until victory.”

Read the lawsuit here. (PDF)

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  1. cigsm says:

    Um first & stuff. But shouldn’t the line have read “…and will be defended vigorously until victorIOUS”?

    • travel_nut says:

      Not necessarily. To me it reads as “…and will be defended vigorously until [we reach] victory.”

      • mmmsoap says:

        I read it the same way as @travel_nut did (as in, it didn’t seem weird to me), but regardless, a quote is a quote. Gotta print what the guy actually said, not what I wish he’d said.

    • Megalomania says:

      No. Victory is an event, and they will defend it vigorously until that event is reached. If they had said “and we will defend against it vigorously” instead, then victorious would be appropriate (but victory would work as well) as it would be modifying “we”.

  2. The Brad says:

    You know, suing your former employees and a syndicated newspaper isn’t going to get your customers back.

    • Geekybiker says:

      Suing people to try and sweep bad press under the rug rarely works out well for the company doing the suing.

      • Illusio26 says:

        It’s called the Streisand effect.

        • RxDude says:

          It’s also called SLAPP, but I don’t know if New York has anti-SLAPP laws like some states do.

          • huadpe says:

            Unfortunately for them, they sued an entity that has the kind of pockets to make SLAPP suits useless. The NY Times probably has 1st amendment attorneys on staff, if not on massive retainer, and can crush the store owners easily.

          • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

            We (Canadians) have the National Protection of Public Participation Act, which is nation-wide and serves to prevent SLAPP cases. But from what I’ve seen, Canada isn’t as frivolously litigious as the US is, so it doesn’t get brought up a lot… Again, this is just what I’ve seen in the 20-some years of being alive.

            But yeah, as huadpe said, suing the New York Times is like trying to sue the Walt Disney Company. Feeding yourself to the wolves, more or less.

    • SonarTech52 says:

      But if they win and get any money, it can sure help to fund their next venture. This one seems pretty dead now, they may have just said F*** it.

      • Shadowfax says:

        They won’t, and in fact will probably end up paying money in court costs. The media is under no obligation to censor the truth just because it would be bad for someone’s business.

    • Bohemian says:

      It is a pure bullying tactic. From the history of what has gone on, sounds par for the course from these business owners. They should go into debt collection or bounty hunting, sounds more to their skill set. I have to wonder if they know the guy from Brooklyn selling counterfeit eyewear that was in the NYT over the weekend?

  3. FatLynn says:

    Well, it comes down to what was in the letter, facts or exaggerations.

    • humphrmi says:

      Yeah, it’s a fine line. I remember the letter being posted online, but I don’t recall the details. if someone said “My boss Bob has herpes” or “Company policy requires us to overcharge customers” or some such, that would be libel if it’s not a fact. But other things are more squiggly, like statements starting with “In my opinion…” and they have to prove malice (NYT v. Sullivan) which is very difficult to prove because the plaintiff would have to prove what’s inside the defendant’s head (malice) in order to prevail.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        I remember it being fairly non-specific on incidents, but specific on overall experiences the workers had, i.e. their feelings on the subject. They actually did a very good job at being contientious of Gorilla and the individual co-worker they had a huge problem with (who was not named in the letter).

        I thought, given the circumstances, it was the perfect example on how employees should declare that the business is defunct and explain concisely why they were leaving without violating any law.

    • Shadowfax says:

      No, actually, it doesn’t. The media report is (paraphrased) “The employees wrote a letter. This is the letter.” The newspaper itself is not making allegations against the coffee company – it’s only reporting that the employees are making allegations. That is true, and truth (or even just reasonably believing something to be the truth) is an absolute defense against libel. The only way this could be legally libelous is if the newspaper made the whole story up, and knew that there was no letter at the time of publication.

      • humphrmi says:

        Yes, NYT is in the clear on this (and actually, was the defendant in a previous case that set the precedent making it tougher to sue the news industry for libel) but the coffee shop is also suing the former employees who made the statements, which might be a bit dicier. But as long as they stuck to the rules about libel, they’re safe. And what the plaintiff probably doesn’t understand (or their lawyer didn’t tell them) is that simply making a negative comment in writing about someone is not libel. There must be malice, the statements have to be untrue, and any statements about opinions or feelings are fair play.

        • headhot says:

          Yes, but the employees didnt publish the letter to the general public, so they can’t be held for defamation. Its like if I call my boss an ass in email, and that email gets leaked, it wasn’t intended for general distribution,

          • dbaker0810 says:

            Correct me if I’m wrong, but the employees taped it to the front door window for everyone to read, did they not? How is that not publishing it to the general public?

    • you-toe-pee-an says:

      Not really. At common law the tort of defamation is usually broken down as 1) knowingly 2) publishing 3) false 4) assertions of fact which 5) damage the defendant’s reputation. It’s incumbent on the plaintiff to prove all of this.
      Having read the complaint, all they assert is that the letter is false. If I was an attorney, I’d write a single-sentence response and file a motion for summary judgment and cross-complaint for frivolous litigation.

    • There's room to move as a fry cook says:

      IMHO the NYT is in the clear and the workers don’t have enough assets between them to buy a big screen TV or make the lawsuit worthwhile.

    • Rachacha says:

      The text of the letter is in the lawsuit on page 4. Essentially the employees said that the specific issues will be kept between the employees and the employer and as the issues were brushed aside it created an unhealthy and unworkable environment.

  4. Erik_says_this says:

    Gorilla Coffee’s bad PR is to be softened by… a lawsuit? Yeah, way to get the favor of the people back.

    • The cake is a lie! says:

      AMEN!

    • ryder02191 says:

      People forget, and eventually they stop caring. A week or two from now, this won’t matter one bit and it will be business as usual. I always find it funny when people call things “PR nightmares,” particularly because such nightmares blow over before people give it a second thought.

    • q`Tzal says:

      >sarcasm>>
      No, see he has a long term plan for good PR.
      First he sues,
      then the general public spreads the news,
      then the forces Anonymous attack in mass claiming a month long take down.
      This tapers off after about 36 hours as something else occurs some where else.
      In the mean time, Gorilla Coffee can claim double victim status: libelous ex-employees and the EVIL INTARWEBS!!!
      >/sarcasm>>
      Wait … maybe that is what really is going on.

  5. TheBusDriver says:

    He is a solo attorney that apparently specializes in collections. I am sure the NYT is terrified of this joker.

    • ill informed says:

      you’re confused

    • neuromonkey says:

      The Guardian called him “one of the world’s finest trial lawyers” and the “founding partner of one of America’s most prestigious law firms.” In 2007, Business Week called him “legendary,” “a ferocious lawyer who has received numerous media citations as one of America’s leading trial lawyers” and a “ferocious litigator;” Time Magazine named him “legendary, one of the best trial lawyers in the country.” Fortune Magazine called him, “One of the nation’s premier First Amendment attorneys,” and “legendary,” Reuters called him a “famed lawyer” while other media have called him “America’s most prominent First Amendment lawyer” with an “extraordinarily diverse practice” and “one of the country’s top ten litigators.” Super Lawyers Magazine designated him as a “Superlawyer.” New York Magazine and Los Angeles Magazine, over the last twelve years have named him both as one of America’s best trial lawyers, and one of America’s best intellectual property lawyers.

      • mobiuschic42 says:

        Uh you guys are all confused… it’s pretty clear that TheBusDriver is talking about Gorilla Coffee’s lawyer. “First Amendment litigator Martin Garbus has agreed to represent the workers” AKA the defendants. This Finkelstein character is representing Gorilla.

  6. The cake is a lie! says:

    In reading their letter again, i don’t see anything defamatory to it. They posted the facts as they saw it and were very respectful to management. Have we really arrived in a time where if you badmouth your former employer or state the reasons why you left, that you can be sued by them for it? MAYBE, just maybe, those employees were the reason customers came there and not because the coffee was great. Or maybe, just MAYBE, the coffee was great because of the employees. Either way, I’m sure this is another one of those things we’ll never hear anything else about. I believe the defense attorney will file an immediate appeal for dismissal and will win.

    • deadandy says:

      Exactly. The letter was actually quite subdued compared to what it could have been. It didn’t name names, and it wasn’t a laundry list of specific complaints, other than a pattern of poor management and business choices.

  7. Razor512 says:

    If something is wrong with a business, the public has a right to know, unsafe or unclean conditions for the workers means a poor quality or possibly dangerous product for the consumers.

    Imagine this.

    Suppose you work at a company that makes ice cream, now suppose it is company policy to use rats to clean out the storage containers, then spread the rat poop around the container just like you would if you were greasing a pan with butter.

    This is clearly bad for the customers as the company just gave new meaning to “all natural”

    If a worker comes to the media to complain, and the complaint causes the company to lose business, does the company have a right to sue in this case?

    while this made up story is a bit more extreme, the concept is the same, The company did wrong by either it’s workers, or product, or both and the exposure of that caused them to lose business. If the company did nothing wrong, then it wouldn’t have affected their business.

    By suing they are trying to say “I do bad things and I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those meddling kids working in the media”

    • obits3 says:

      True that. The truth is always a defense to libel & slander

    • dcarrington01 says:

      So much for the chocolate chip and mint chip ice cream I have in the freezer……

    • Rachacha says:

      But in your extreme example, it would be rather easy for an outside party (health inspector) to verify that the claims being made against the company were true (look in an empty tank see rats cleaning it and test the product for poo.

      What if the claims were that my boss was mean, always yelling at us during employee only meetings or when there was no one in the store, or forcing us to work on days that we had asked off. Both of thesse can create an unhealth work environment for the employee but do not have a direct effect on the safety of the product to the consumer. Both of these situations could be difficult to prove unless the employees carried tape recorders or video cameras with them all day long.

      I am not saying that was what happened here, just providing an alternate perspective.

  8. mmmsoap says:

    Ok, with no legal background, I’m pretty confused….if the letter actually exists (which it does), then how could anyone argue that the NYTimes published something false? I mean, they published an actual document. While the owners may (or may not) have a beef with the content of the letter, wouldn’t that argument go to the writers of it, not the publisher?

    • erratapage says:

      If the letter contained falsehoods, then the authors of the letter could be found liable for defamation. If the newspaper knew or should have known of the falsehoods, then the paper could be found liable for defamation.

      There’s a theoretical case of interference with prospective business relations, as well.

      However, reading the letter (published previously by Consumerist), I don’t see any actionable statements.

      • Shadowfax says:

        The newspaper could only be found liable for defamation if it affirmed the libelous statements as true despite knowing otherwise.

        Put another way, even if it was known that the letter was full of lies, the newspaper can publish it without being defamatory as long as the story is “This is the letter that they wrote,” and not “This is the letter that they wrote, and everything they said in it is true.”

    • Geekybiker says:

      If they can prove that the NYT should have known it was false they might have a case. They’d have a real hard time proving intent with the times though.

  9. JulesNoctambule says:

    I’d say their crappy business practices are what cost them business. Trying to blame the workers who took their treatment public really won’t help them look better, either.

  10. Portlandia says:

    Way to go Gorilla…more bad press!! Way to build that business back up!

    Have you been taking hints from decoryoureyes.com??

    • vastrightwing says:

      No press is bad press. Look at it this way, the coffee shop in question needs to drum up some business. In spite of what you may think, bad press can also help business. It keeps the name of the shop in the news and curious people will go there to see what all the fuss is about. It’s sort of like people rubber necking on the highway: they want to see the wreck. OR.. the guy is a real honest to goodness creep with no business plan, so he sues because he has no clue how to fix his business.

  11. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    All I see this doing is forcing 8 ex-employees to testify in court how terible the work conditions were to cooborate the letter. Gorilla is digging their own grave.

  12. SecretAgentWoman says:

    Well, they’ve just proven to all that the management were indeed, douches of the highest degree.

  13. Tim says:

    The lawsuit is potentially a SLAPP: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strategic_lawsuit_against_public_participation.

    Beyond that, though, the Times is mostly not liable. They didn’t actually write the letter, nor did they claim to have written it. They only wrote that someone else wrote it. If they published it with intent to defame, yeah, that might be an issue. But proving that would be extremely difficult.

    As for the employees, it mostly depends on whether or not what they said is true.

  14. OnePumpChump says:

    Do you one better:

    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/105651-Copyright-Lawyers-Sue-Lawyer-Who-Helped-Copyright-Defendants

    “Attorneys for the U.S. Copyright Group have filed a lawsuit against a lawyer who sold “self-help” documents to people who had been sued by the USCG, demanding that he pay the costs involved in dealing with the people who used the documents he sold.”

  15. denros says:

    these guys are starting to seem more and more like the soup nazi every day: amazingly delicious stuff, horrible management.

  16. Straspey says:

    For all the people here who get themselves all in a huff and riled up over the abuse of their constitutional rights…

    This – THIS is a classic case of an attempt to intimidate and repress the free flow of information by a disgruntled employer.

    Gorilla Coffee has a well-documented reputation for mistreating their employees; and it will be incumbent upon them (the plaintiff) to show with a preponderance of evidence, that they suffered damage as a direct cause of the letter published by the eight former employees – and then they’ll have to prove that the NY Times *KNEW* that the letter contained defamatory falsehoods, yet the editors chose to publish it anyway.

    This is a perfect case for summary dismissal with prejudice.

  17. mythago says:

    Does NY have anti-SLAPP laws?

  18. TalKeaton: Every Puzzle Has an Answer! says:

    See, this is what I don’t get. The company has bad working conditions (at least as perceived by the workers). Their workers left, then complained publicly (as is their right). The newspaper printed the letter as it felt its subscribers would want to know the opinion of these workers. The company lost business.

    That sounds exactly as it should be. Remind me where the grounds to sue here are?

  19. aloria says:

    I’ll venture a guess that their business would have been hurt even if no letter was printed due to the fact that they were closed for several days. People probably found better alternatives or assumed Gorilla was closed for good. At the very least, the press regarding the walk out indicated to the public that this was a temporary situation.

  20. nopirates says:

    gorilla has always been one of the most overrated coffee joints in park slope. i’d comment on it’s surly employees and poor service, but that’s nothing unusual in the brooklyn coffee industry.

    i suppose that taylor swift and jake gyllenhaal sipping lattes there probably makes them feel important or at least famous, but that’s no excuse for this scumbaggery .

    i’ve heard many times that gorilla was a shitty place to work, events like leave no mystery as to why.

  21. AmPriS says:

    Thank goodness we have Anti-SLAPP laws.

  22. Hoser says:

    I read the lawsuit, all I see is “they defamed us!” without pointing to anything specific that was defamatory, or why… which makes it kinda hard to defend. The lawyer seems to be as dumb as the owners.

    Also, not too sure about New York, but here in Ontario you have to serve notice on a newspaper that you intend to sue them within 6 weeks of becoming aware of the libel, and sue within 3 months. Failure to do so results in immediate dismissal of the action.

  23. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    The Forbidden Zone was once a paradise. Lawyers made a desert of it, ages ago. Damn you! God damn you all to hell!

    This lawsuit is like wrestling a gorilla. You don’t quit when you’re tired – you quit when the gorilla is tired.

  24. Ubernostrom says:

    For all of you who seem confused and all IANAL, let’s simplify this a bit. Gorilla has no case, they will not win, end of story.

  25. Fafaflunkie Plays His World's Smallest Violin For You says:

    I guess Gorilla Coffee has no “grounds” on this case. Okay, boo…

    Are there anti-SLAPP laws in New York? If not, hopefully this will set a precedent. Seeing as they’re suing the Times as well as the eight ex-employees, I’m sure this coffee shop’s going to wish they didn’t tease that 800-pound gorilla, who I’m sure has a team of lawyers ready to fight back, get a default judgment, and knock the plaintiff(s) out of business.

  26. stevied says:

    Per my lawyer

    (actually a Federal Judge)

    The question (with regards to the NYT) is did they take any action to confirm all or part of the “facts” of the letter, did they provide an opportunity for the employer to provide evidence to the contrary or to make a comment with regards to the allegations/actions of the employees.

    If the NYT did take resonable actions (such as confirming the letter had been posted in the store’s doorway and that the employees had indeed abandonded their post) and providing an opportunity for the employer to provide evidence or comment then the NYT is totally off the hook. Publishing the letter without support is grounds for further legal action as the courts will require a level of reasonable behavior from a big boy news reporting service that they don’t require of others.

    (aka…. you should know better).

    That said, most of the respectable news organizations will hold a sensational story (such as this one) for a period of time (a few minutes or even a couple of hours) just to provide a buffer from inflammatory statements and allow others an opportunity to respond. This is how they work. Keeps them out of trouble.

    Again, per the Judge, when he was presiding in state court, a local TV station published a report about a franchisee and non-payment of employee wages. He tossed the case when the TV station showed that they A) Sat on the story for 24 hours B) Made telephone calls to the store as well as the franchisee’s home C) Made telephones to the corporate headquarters as well as an overnight letter asking for a response by the corporation. D) only when all partys were given a chance to response and comment did the TV station run with the story.

    In the words of the Judge, it is responsible journalism. He tossed the suit for non-merit and cited the TV station’s actions as causation.

    Given the NYT’s former reputation, I suspect (hope) they performed sat on the story while they performed a wee bit of due diligence. If so, they be off the hook.

  27. sonneillon says:
  28. kingdom2000 says:

    Nothing like trying to short circuit freedom of speech and the press to make people want to buy your product!

    Sounds like the only appropriate response to such corporate behavior is to boycott the corporation. People should not do business with places that operate this way when people complain.

  29. Levk says:

    so if i understand this right, they are fighting bad publicity with more bad publicity? Win one for the coffee shop!!!

  30. Zowie says:

    I was upset with the company after the mass resignation. I thought, “wow, things must be pretty bad for that many staff to be driven to this.” But that was a while ago. Now, this suit has me angry. It’s as though the owners wanted to provide proof to the world of how horrible they are as bosses. And suing the newspaper? Apparently, they are both cruel and stupid. Liked the coffee and all, but there’s plenty of other places to go in this town….

  31. KlueBat says:

    And now thanks to this lawsuit Gorilla Coffee will get another round of bad publicity! This is a much better option than letting the whole thing fade from public memory.

  32. Quake 'n' Shake says:

    The Times reporter and the eight ex-workers were also named in the suit, which claims the epistle was defamatory and caused them to lose business.

    Do you know what else will cause you to lose business? Suing your former employees for something as trivial as this.

  33. sopmodm14 says:

    i never knew that the document wasn’t only for the employees

    if it were, they should’ve just BCC the email to employees eyes only

    it wasn’t a confidential file, so gorilla coffee should just stfu