Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) has been hit with a federal lawsuit from 12 customers who accuse the chain of discriminating against them because they are deaf. The incidents supposedly happened at multiple Starbucks stores in New York City.
Lawsuits arising from either poor treatment of hearing-impaired customers or insufficient efforts to accommodate them are becoming more common in retail, with eBay now fighting its own deaf litigation.
According to a report in Courthouse News, one Starbucks customer said that he was told that he "sounded funny" and the associate then laughed at him. When the customer asked to speak with a manager, the associate yelled obscenities at him. The customer was then asked to leave was told he "was not welcome at that store."
At another store, a group of hearing-impaired customers were holding their monthly "Deaf Chat Coffee" meeting when associates tried to trick them into leaving. "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, referring to a December 2012 meeting. "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."
In what is perhaps the most blatant allegation for this being an issue that might extend beyond one or two more stores, another plaintiff tried to place an order by handing the associate the order in writing. He was refused. "The Starbucks employee informed (the customer) via writing that Starbucks was not serving deaf individuals." Yeah, Starbucks Legal was undoubtedly overjoyed that the associate chose to state that as Starbucks policy and to also write it down. That'll go over big during that associate's performance review.
It's certainly easy to understand that Starbucks can't know about the behavior of every associate in every store. But the lawsuit said the group had contacted Starbucks corporate and was given an apology and an offer of a giftcard. The lawsuit said, though, that the discriminatory behavior didn't change after that offer was made. More than anything else, the lack of change after corporate was informed is what gives this lawsuit a potential for meaningful damage.
- See Courthouse News story
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