Deaf Customers Sue Starbucks for Discrimination

Deaf customers say Starbucks employees refused to serve them.

ByABC News
July 17, 2013, 9:37 AM

July 17, 2013— -- Twelve deaf Starbucks customers have filed a lawsuit alleging that workers at two of the coffee shops in New York City mocked them and refused to serve them because of their disability.

"The company is discriminating against deaf individuals by refusing to serve them coffee because they are deaf, making fun of the way they speak, attempting to eject them from their stores, and making false allegations against the police," the lawsuit, filed on July 10 in the United States District Court in the Southern District of New York, stated.

The plaintiffs claim that they were refused service and mocked at two of Starbucks' Manhattan locations over the course of several months.

In August 2012 a Starbucks employee was amused at the way one of the plaintiffs, Alan Roth, of New York, made his order., according to the suit.

"…The Starbucks employee proceeded to laugh at him," the lawsuit read, "stated that he sounded funny, and asked him to continually repeat himself as she laughed harder each time."

And in December 2012, one of the plaintiffs, Sean Finnerty, of New York, claims he was refused service at a Starbucks because of his disability.

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"Plaintiff Sean 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 lawsuit stated. "The Starbucks employee refused to serve Mr. Finnerty…The Starbucks employee informed Mr. Finnerty via writing that Starbucks was not serving deaf individuals."

The plaintiffs' complaints culminate on March 2013, when they allege the manager of a Starbucks store called the police to disband a "Deaf Coffee Chat," a meeting the plaintiffs organized to discuss deaf culture.

"Plaintiffs were shocked and frightened that a Starbucks employee would call the police to remove them from Starbucks," the lawsuit stated.

According to the lawsuit, "the police officers...reprimanded Starbucks employees for calling them over this matter."

The plaintiffs seek financial compensation and for Starbucks to re-evaluate its policies towards disabled citizens.

"We want Starbucks to fully investigate the discriminatory acts that occurred," Eric Baum, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, told ABC News. "We want Starbucks to implement policies, procedures, and sensitivity training so that all of its deaf customers are treated with respect."

Starbucks responded on Monday with a statement on its website, which was also signed by a Starbucks employee in a video.

"...We want Starbucks to be a place where deaf people want to work and visit. We strive to provide a Starbucks experience that is culturally sensitive and inclusive of deaf etiquette...," the statement read.

"We promote equality, inclusion and accessibility, including offering a number of ways we directly support our deaf partners and customers," the statement continued.

Starbucks does have American Sign Language training and a "Creating a Deaf Friendly Environment" course for employees, according to the statement.

Starbucks said it's examining the claims made against its two Manhattan stores.

"From a corporate and local level we are investigating what happened," Jaime Riley, a spokeswoman for Starbucks, told ABC News.