A group of Starbucks customers, most of them deaf, are suing the company for allegedly discriminating against them at two Manhattan locations. One plaintiff, Alan Roth, says that last summer a Starbucks employee at the 424 Park Avenue South location laughed at his voice when he placed his order, then asked him to repeat his order again and again, laughing harder each time.
According to the lawsuit, when Roth demanded to speak to a manager, the employee became enraged, and came out from behind the counter to accost Roth, shouting obscenities in his face. Other employees allegedly restrained the incensed worker.
The lawsuit accuses Starbucks employees of mocking the way deaf customers speak, refusing to serve them, and even calling police in a attempt to have them removed. That last allegation comes from a "Deaf Chat Coffee" social group, which gathered regularly at the Astor Place Starbucks. According to court documents, the trouble started at a meeting in December 2012:
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
Once the 'Deaf Chat Coffee' group moved, the Starbucks employees proceeded to allow non-deaf customers into that area and did not clean the area. At approximately 9:00 pm, plaintiff Sean Finnerty ('Mr. Finnerty') waited in line and proceeded to try to place an order with a Starbucks employee by handing his written order on a piece of paper to the Starbucks employee.
The Starbucks employee refused to serve Mr. Finnerty. Confused, Mr. Finnerty demanded to know why he was not being served. The Starbucks employee informed Mr. Finnerty via writing that Starbucks was not serving deaf individuals. Shocked, humiliated and disgusted, Mr. Finnerty reported what had happened to other deaf individuals of the 'Deaf Chat Coffee' and the manager 'Ziyad'.
Plaintiffs Elvira Janturina and Miu Ng along with their two other friends who are deaf attempted to place an order with the Starbucks employee and were also refused service because they are deaf.
Undeterred, the group continued to meet there, and it apparently became too much for Ziyad, who allegedly call police to the location and accused the deaf patrons of creating a disturbance. According to the complaint, "police found no illegal conduct, apologized to the deaf customers and reprimanded Starbucks employees."
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and a court order requiring better training for Starbucks employees. "It's a sad reality that even in 2013, deaf individuals experience discrimination on a routine basis," attorney Eric Baum, who is representing the 16 plaintiffs, tells Huffington Post. "It's happening right under your nose."
Starbucks offered some of the customers who complained to corporate headquarters gift cards and an apology, but said nothing of any disciplinary action. A Starbucks representative says, "Starbucks is still looking into the claims. Discrimination of any kind is unacceptable at Starbucks." Baum, however, isn't satisfied with that, and tells JD Journal, "Ideally, someone independently should investigate these allegations and determine what steps need to be taken."