Lawsuit Claims Starbucks Employees Discriminated Against Deaf Customers In NYC

Starbucks is facing a lawsuit brought by 12 customers in Federal court claiming that employees at the chain discriminated against deaf people in New York City. The plaintiffs say they were refused service, ejected from the store and made fun of for how they speak.

The plaintiffs say this happened at more than one Starbucks in NYC, and repeatedly, reports Courthouse News.

One plaintiff says a Starbuck employee “stated that he sounded funny,”while asking him to repeat himself and laughing while the man communicated. He claims that when he asked to speak to a manager, the employee turned angry and screamed obscenities at him. The plaintiff says he was then told to leave and that he wasn’t welcome at the store.

Another plaintiff says he holds a monthly meeting for deaf people at a Starbucks store, where he claims employees tried to kick his group out before the store closed and wouldn’t serve them.

“At approximately 9:00 pm, four hours before the posted closing time, a total of four Starbucks employees told the ‘Deaf Chat Coffee’ group that they had to leave the area they were occupying as it was going to be cleaned,” the complaint states. “Once the [redacted] group moved, the Starbucks employees proceeded to allow non-deaf customers into that area and did not clean the area.”

The plaintiff says that at that time, he waited in line and attempted to place an order by handing a written note on a piece of paper to an employee, who then allegedly refused to serve him. When he asked why, the worker allegedly told him by writing a note saying Starbucks wasn’t serving deaf individuals.

Members of his group then also tried to place an order and were also refused service, the plaintiffs claim.

When the group returned for subsequent meetings at the location, they claim employees continued to discriminate against them, including an incident where the police were called and employees said the group was causing a disturbance.

The plaintiffs eventually sent an email to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and other upper management, whereupon an executive apologized  for the “inconvenience we caused you and your friends” and offered a preloaded Starbucks gift card.

That’s not enough, say the plaintiffs, who claim the company didn’t do much else to address the discrimination. As such, they’re seeking an injunction and compensatory and punitive damages for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and state and city laws.

A Starbucks spokeswoman tells Consumerist:

“First and foremost, discrimination of any kind at Starbucks is unacceptable. We take these allegations very seriously, and believe they are neither consistent with our values nor our track record of engaging the Deaf community as partners and as customers. We proudly promote equality, inclusion and accessibility, and strive to provide a welcoming environment for all.”

In response to the controversy, Starbucks also posted a blog entitled “Starbucks on Inclusion of Deaf Community” addressing issues raised in the lawsuit at length. It outlines the allegations, adding:

“On behalf of the over 200,000 partners (employees), we want to take the opportunity to be clear that discrimination of any kind is not tolerated at Starbucks. We take these allegations very seriously, and believe they are neither consistent with our values nor our track record of engaging the Deaf community both as partners and as customers.”

Deaf People Accuse Starbucks of Bias [Courthouse News]