Homophobic Rant by a manager at a Starbucks in Long Island, NY

I want to personally thank Missy and her spouse Dana for doing the right thing.  Missy was witness to a homophobic rant by a Starbucks manager towards one of her employees and took the time to write a letter and also blog about it.  The Lil family blog  post went viral and two days later the story made front page news in the Huffington Post. Starbucks has initiated an investigation and is running  this statment on the front page of their website that declares their dedication to diversity.

Let’s talk about what happened to Jeffrey (the employee who was ranted upon), discuss how homosexuals should behave when they are at work, have a few words about what should happen to the manager that allegedly harassed and fired Jeffrey, and review what Starbucks responsibility is in this debacle.

I do not know Jeffrey, nor do I know exactly what he did or said that got his manager all fired up.  I assume that Jeffrey is a young man who is just starting his career (Jeffrey send me an email with a brief Bio please).  As a typical young gay guy I’m sure he’s trying to figure out who he is, is working for near minimum wage at a coffee shop to scrape by a living or help pay for school, and using what little cash he has left over to do the few things that he enjoys (including sipping on mocha lattes and chai tea while dreading the weekend traffic on the LIE).  I’m sure he has the same struggles all gay young men have (dating a lot, dressing fabulously, clubbing in NYC, and watching Glee).  The last thing on his mind is getting hassled by the baroness of baristas.

He could have sashayed into work with his finest boa, talked in front of a customer about his butch buddy Jeremy, or bragged to the cashier about hiking to the top of mount Olympus. Under no circumstances is it acceptable for a manager to disparage and disrespect him in front of other coworkers or customers.   A humiliated employee is not a productive employee.  I am sure Starbucks has a written disciplinary procedure and it doesn’t include shouting at employees in a condescending manner in the front of the store, while customers are trying to relax and enjoy their no fat soy double espresso latte.

In the managers rant to Jeffrey she stated that she was not interested in his politics (obviously left leaning liberal), beliefs (I must look fabulous in these Louboutin biarritz flats), and his thoughts (I wonder what Snooki would think if I showed up at whatever club they frequent at the Jersey Shore in an Ed Hardy shirt and started fist pumping) were offensive to coworkers. I mean how disgraceful is it that he had all those discussions with his coworkers about how hot the guys are on Grindr and which “Bitch Stole My Look” star was really rocking it on the red carpet. Let me ask a question, was Jeffrey given the “gay handbook for appropriate conversation topics” during employee orientation? Jeffrey, in lieu of punishment for the manager, volunteer to take her to your best friend that specializes in extreme makeovers.  Her outer and perhaps inner beauty will shine, she’ll find the love of her life, see the error in her ways,  thank you profusely and offer you the position of assistant manager.

Really who determines what is appropriate for work place conversation for the gays?  I mean should we talk about repairing the water heater, mowing the lawn, and washing the car?  I kinda doubt you will hear too much talk about tennis camp for the kids or going out with the guys to the Nicks game, followed by a night on the town at Hooters sucking on chicken wings and fondling the waitresses.  I personally don’t advocate talking at work about Marriage Equality, or why Don’t Ask Don’t Tell should be abolished.  These topics are best left for fights with good friends and family.

We all have opinions and they do occasionally come up in discussion while at work.  What does the “straight community” expect us to talk about?  Sure, most of us don’t want to be offensive, but  there are topics of conversation that “the straights” have in the work place that rub us the wrong way (how many times can one hear about the boyfriend who forgot your birthday, or somebody bitching because all the spouse wants to do on Sundays is watch footbal)? Most of us just suck it up and give you our best recommendation for re-doing the living room.

I congratulate all of my fellow homo’s who have managed to find employment in gay or very gay friendly environments (I’m talking to you Andy Cohen).  You don’t know how good you have it.  Early on in my career I was working at a company that was not very gay friendly and one of my gay coworkers outed me before I was ready. I was mortified and scared that I’d lose my job. In Indiana you can be fired just because you understand that the color of your shoes should match your belt and that it’s never ok to wear socks with sandals.

When I made the move west I vowed that I would no longer be confined to a small room (or in Mariah Carey’s house 12,000 square feet) that was built to store hanging trousers and button down shirts.  Even though I was now living in California, I still worked in an industry that didn’t exactly extend the welcome mat to the friends of Dorothy. The company, headquartered in Minneapolis, did have a policy against discrimination based on sexual orientation.  I had arrived in the land of fruit and nuts and now felt like I could rip open the doors of the closet, wash off the stench of mothballs, and join my fellow out and proud gays who also no longer reeked from the smell of camphor.

And now for a moment of seriousness 

If you are a manager or supervisor in a large corporation you have many responsibilities both to the company and its employees.  Because every state in the union is subject to Federal EEOC  laws, your actions as a manger have legal ramifications.  Each individual state also has employment discrimination laws on the books that impact your behavior. In California employers cannot discriminate against any employee based on race, religion, or sexual orientation. Click her for California Discrimination Laws   That means that if you are gay and are fired or discriminated against in any way and can prove it you have grounds to file a lawsuite.  If your suite is upheld or if the company settles, you may find yourself set for life.

A manager is accountable not only for himself/ herself, but also all of the employee that report to them.  Companies like Starbucks must train their employees to follow EEOC federal laws and all state laws that apply as well.  This means that a manager is responsible for preventing a hostile work environment and they must take action if somebody brings a complaint to their attention.   An employee can file a lawsuit if they can prove that other employees are making fun of their sexual orientation, race or religion and management has not taken the appropriate action to put a stop to it.

If you are gay and find yourself in this situation, the best thing you can do is document every incident that occurs. Buy yourself a spiral notebook and write down everything  including date, time, names, and any piece of evidence that will help your case.  Keep the notebook at home…never bring it into work.  It is also important if an incident occurs more than once bring it up to your supervisor and document the date and time that you did.  The supervisor has a legal responsibility to investigate your allegation.  In California, if no action is taken or if any employee retaliate against you for your complaint they are putting themselves and the company at risk.  It is wise, if you feel you are being harassed, to consult an equal opportunity employment lawyer.  Most will give you a free consultation.

In this case Missy is a witness (and so is the blog and the letter she wrote) of the event and if Starbucks wants to perform a thorough investigation they will interview her.  If Starbucks really wants to take the investigation to the next level they will try to find other customers who were in the store at the time so they can more information on the incident.  Of course they should talk to Jeffrey as well as the manager and coworkers who were involved. Regardless of the laws, Starbucks needs to do the right thing and look after the rights of their employees.  I believe that congress is working on a Federal Law that addresses sexual orientation in the workplace so hopefully this issue will be addressed on a national level.

In reading some of the comments on various blogs it seems like there are other Starbucks current or former employees who have had bad experiences with managers.  Some of the comments mentioned similar harassment of gays and other employee harassment that wasn’t necessarily homophobic but behavior that created an uncomfortable work place.  This is bad PR for a company that has marketed itself as being culturally refined, having a cool vibe, and an environmentally friendly place of business.

If I were CEO of Starbucks I would do everything I could to get in front of this story and let my customers know that this alleged behavior is not tolerated and will be addressed.  I would also make sure that all managers and supervisors are retrained on equal opportunity policies and procedures and the benefits of a professional work environment and customer experience.  The cost of intolerance is high as well it should be.

Pride parades are great and they give visibility to gay issues, but in 2011, we don’t always have to take it to the streets. Our voices can be heard on blogs, tweets, and facebook walls.

Once again, a heartfelt thank you Missy for taking the time to write about an injustice you were witness to.  By writing a letter and then blogging about it you got Starbucks attention.  Let’s hope they do the right thing.

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