A group of 16 Starbucks patrons, most of them deaf, have filed a lawsuit against the coffee giant alleging that they were discriminated against by workers at two of Starbucks' New York City-area locations, Courthouse News reports. The suit references incidents in which employees allegedly refused to serve deaf patrons, mocked the way they spoke and attempted to eject them from the premises.
Among the incidents is an account from plaintiff Alan Roth, who alleges that an employee of a Starbucks store in Manhattan repeatedly laughed at him when he tried to place an order in August of 2012, saying that he sounded funny.
"Mr. Roth was shocked and humiliated and asked the Starbucks employee if she had a problem with him being deaf," reads a court document acquired by HuffPost. According to the document, the employee allegedly "then proceeded to go around the counter and started screaming obscenities in plaintiff's face and was then pulled away by other Starbucks staff." Starbucks employees then allegedly told Roth to leave and never to return.
A Starbucks representative told HuffPost that she could not comment on specifics of the case, but said that "Starbucks is still looking into the claims." She stressed that "discrimination of any kind is unacceptable at Starbucks."
In an interview with The Huffington Post, the attorney for the group behind the lawsuit, Eric Baum, said that such incidents are more common than many might think. "It's a sad reality that even in 2013, deaf individuals experience discrimination on a routine basis," he said. "It's happening right under your nose."
Baum said his clients are seeking changes within Starbuck's corporate culture, and asking that the company "create policies, procedures and trainings" to help employees serve deaf patrons. These measures would also include sensitivity training.
According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs are also seeking unspecified punitive damages.
Baum said Starbucks has given him no indication as to the nature of its investigation. "Ideally, someone independently should investigate these allegations and determine what steps need to be taken," he said. Baum's firm, Eisenberg & Baum, handles a large volume of cases centered on the rights of the deaf and partially deaf.
"We are seeking that all customers be treated equally," Baum said.