Inaction and Broken Promises:
About two weeks ago Missy had an experience that changed her life. As she was sitting in a Starbucks in Long Island , New York waiting for her partner to get her haircut she was shocked and appalled to witness a homophobic rant by a Starbucks manager toward an employee (Jeffrey). She felt really bad so she decided to do her part to make a difference and bring this incident to light. She wrote a letter to Starbucks describing what she had seen. To give the whole thing visibility, her partner Dana posted the letter on her blog and her facebook wall. Within a couple of days the post went viral and it made front page news on the Huffington Post resulting in over 250,000 hits to their blog site and many media requests for interviews.
As a result of all of the publicity Missy fully expected Starbucks to investigate the incident and make things right with Jeffrey. That hasn’t been the case. Instead Starbucks conducted a brief investigation with the store manager involved and did not interview Missy or Jeffrey to get their side of the story. They did take a statement from Missy shortly after the incident, however, there was never a follow up and no contact at all with Jeffrey. Starbucks addressed the issue by posting a statement on their website declaring their commitment to diversity.
I get it that they are in business to make a profit and they must take appropriate action to protect their reputation when it’s threatened. Did they do the right thing? I think not. I believe they went into the investigation with a closed mind and their only agenda was to protect the company from litigation. Their legal team and upper management just wanted to make this thing go away so they wouldn’t have to deal with negative publicity and any potential customer backlash.
That’s unfortunate because this has the potential to blow up in their face. Jeffrey has hired a lawyer and has threatened a lawsuit. Missy feels like they broke their promise to her to conduct a thorough investigation and keep her informed as to their progress. She’s not happy about their inaction and has made her feeling known in her latest blog.
A few thoughts:
1. Missy did not make this whole thing up. There has been no denial from Starbucks that an incident occurred. She did not know Jeffrey before and certainly didn’t know he was gay until it was made clear to her by comments made by the Starbucks Manager and two other employees who were involved in the altercation. She was not seeking publicity, either. She had no idea that posting the letter to the blog and facebook wall would result in it going viral and make national news.
2. It is never appropriate for a manager to rebuke an employee in public under these circumstances. Starbucks has released a statement that there were some inaccuracies in Missy’s story and that what she observed was an employee review and not a manager disciplining an employee. They did not state what the inaccuracies were. I don’t think it makes a difference. The review was loud enough that Missy was able to overhear the entire conversation and she captured the main points. The discussion with Jeffrey obviously upset him since he had to leave during the middle of the discussion to compose himself.
3. Missy describes the tone of the manager (and two other employees) as sharp and condescending. The managers also made reference to Jeffrey’s personal life and political views and how they felt it was inappropriate for him to make them public. It was clear to Missy that they were intolerant of his lifestyle and the discussion with him had nothing to do with his performance. They told Jeffrey that he was not fired, but Missy felt like they pressured him to resign so they didn’t have to fire him.
4. Was this bullying? Nobully.org says that bullying is when someone keeps doing or saying things to have power over someone. I believe the managers were bullying Jeffrey and they displayed homophobic and irresponsible behavior. Of course managers are supposed to look out for the best interest of the company they work for. They are equally responsible for creating a healthy work environment and must do their best to make sure an employee never feels threatened. Missy’s description of the incident shows clear discrimination. Based on Jeffrey’s reaction and statements he made during the altercation with the supervisor, she has allowed (probably created) a hostile work environment in her store.
5. What was the proper way for Starbucks to handle this incident? In my opinion they should have done a thorough investigation including follow up with Missy, an interview with Jeffrey, and an attempt to contact other customers who were in the store at the time. They should have disciplined the managers involved and retrained them on Starbucks policy on diversity. I also think they should have offered Jeffrey a position in another store. He now has a black mark on his employee record that would have made advancement within the Starbucks Organization impossible had he stayed. As a result of the publicity from this incident he may be labeled as a troublemaker and he will likely have problems seeking employment elsewhere.
6. What should concerned Starbucks Customers do now? Should there be a call to boycott Starbucks? I’m not a big fan of boycotts but I think Missy has done the right thing. She contacted The Trevor Project and is asking people to avoid one Starbucks visit and instead make a small donation to the Trevor project. Brilliant Idea Missy!! You can donate any amount of money to the Trevor Project here or use your cellphone to text TREVOR to 85944 to send a $5 donation. Let’s blend up some great tasting lemonade out of these lemons Starbucks handed us.
7. Please understand that you can make a difference. It’s actually not all that difficult to put pressure on Starbucks so they don’t allow this to happen again. . Obviously Starbucks has not done an adequate job of hiring good managers and training them to respect diversity. I’m not asking for a boycott. Instead, put pressure on them by blogging, tweeting, facebooking, protesting, and talking about this with your friends. And don’t forget to make a donation to the Trevor Project.
Thank you Missy and Dana for keeping this alive and doing the right thing. Keep up the good work!