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Very Real

Starbucks Barista Allegedly Mocks Customer's Stutter, Weeks After Anti-Bias Training

The customer’s complaint was initially met with a standardized email response from Starbucks and a $5 store credit.

By Samira Sadeque

An employee at a Philadelphia Starbucks allegedly mocked a customer for his stutter, and spelled out a stuttered version of his name on the drink.

Tan Lekwijit, a friend of the customer who was mocked, posted about the incident on Facebook, which took place in the University City area on June 27.

“My friend Sam who is a stutterer stuttered on his name when ordering a coffee at Starbucks,” wrote Lekwijit. “The barista said, 'Okay, S-s-s-sam.' When he received his coffee, he was shocked to see that his name on the cup was written as 'SSSAM,' which was disrespectful.”

Lekwijit, who told Oxygen.com that his friend wishes to remain anonymous, also said Sam wrote an email to the customer service of the coffee-chain but got a “standardized response” in which they reportedly offered him $5 in store credit.

“Clearly, Starbucks missed the point,” Lekwijit wrote in his post. “It was about how you treat people with speech impairments, not how you write names.”

Starbucks came under fire earlier this year when a manager at another store in Philadelphia called the cops on two black men who were inside the store, accusing them of trespassing. The men were led away in handcuffs, sparking widespread conversation about racial profiling in the U.S., according to NBC Philadelphia.

Following the uproar, Starbucks conducted a day of anti-bias training for its nearly 175,000 workers across all its 8,000 stores around the country on May 29.

Lekwijit, a University of Pennsylvania student, told Oxygen.com that he initially posted about the incident on Starbucks’ Facebook page on Sunday afternoon, but it was removed within a few hours.

“I am writing this not because I want to get anybody into trouble, but because I want to raise awareness among the employees,” Lekwijit wrote on his own Facebook page later that day. “There are many people with speech disorders who are in a worse position than my friend’s and struggle with self-esteem and self-confidence. Getting this kind of treatment from people, especially service employees, only scars them—and I beg Starbucks employees to have this in mind.”

Starbucks responded to his post in the comments section.

“We want our stores to serve as a welcoming place for everyone who visits and want to ensure our partners provide a positive experience,” the message read. “Our local leadership has reached out to Sam to better understand what took place and the specifics of his experience and apologize directly. We have zero tolerance for discrimination and are addressing this immediately.”

[Photo: The name-tag on the Starbucks cup shows Sam’s name spelled out in a stutter. By Tan Lekwijit]