An open letter to Starbucks on the LI Family Blog has sparked a PR nightmare for the coffee giant with a woman named Missy Alison alleging that she witnessed “one of the most brazen and unapologetic displays of homophobia I have ever witnessed in my entire life” at a Centereach, New York branch. According to her account, three Starbucks employees “loudly scolded” and spoke “in a condescending manner to” a man named Jeffrey before basically firing him in front of everyone. When Jeffrey left, presumably to collect himself, a “homophobic rant” commenced for five minutes. “He should not get upset at the things people say to him,” one employee reportedly said when he left. “He should be used to it. It’s not like he turned gay yesterday.” Starbucks is now in super damage-control mode.
After 200 comments and 15,000 views on Alison’s first post, the company reached out to her and responded via Twitter: “If you read a blog post about a NY store, we are concerned and are looking into it. We have a zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind.” A longer statement followed, which reads, in part:
We are disheartened by the allegations reported in an East Coast Starbucks store and are taking immediate measures to investigate and take any steps necessary to make this right. The actions reported do not correspond with our values, who we are as a company or the beliefs we try to instill in our partners.
In the past, the company has been named one of the “top businesses that support equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees,” something Starbucks stressed in their response, which wisely links directly back to Alison’s story instead of trying to bury the original tale of discrimination.
From their corporate Twitter account, the company has stressed repeatedly that they “are definitely looking into this situation,” adding, “please know that we are getting to the bottom of this and we do stand by our policies.”
Whether it’s an isolated incident or not, there are valuable lessons on both sides of this: the internet continues to be the best tool for voicing outrage against a behemoth brand, and no incident of discrimination is too small to rally behind. On the other side, even for an evil coffee monopoly, the response has been quick, effective and will hopefully lead to change.