Dublin Starbucks ordered to pay compensation over ‘slanty’ eyes on cup

Customer of Thai heritage awarded €12,000 after employee drew image on cup

The WRC said it accepted that the Starbucks employee did not intend to racially harass the customer. Photograph: iStock

The WRC said it accepted that the Starbucks employee did not intend to racially harass the customer. Photograph: iStock

 

A Dublin Starbucks outlet has been ordered to pay €12,000 compensation to an Irish customer with Thai heritage after an employee drew “slanty” eyes on the woman’s matcha tea latte cup.

Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer Kevin Baneham ordered Atercin Liffey Unlimited trading as Starbucks Tallaght to pay Suchavadee Foley €12,000 after finding that Ms Foley was racially harassed when attending the outlet on January 12th, 2020.

Mr Baneham said it is not disputed that a Starbucks employee drew an image of a smile and “slanty” eyes on the cup as a way of marking it as Ms Foley’s cup.

He said Ms Foley “has Thai-Irish heritage and it is clear that the visual depiction relates to her race. It is as offensive and as unimaginative as a 19th century Punch cartoon”.

The drawing depicts “slanty” eyes which Mr Baneham said is “clearly a reference to race”.

He said: “Instead of her name, a physical descriptor was used, in this case her eyes. This was not a drawing of the complainant, but a sketch of one part of her and one clearly associated with race.”

Interrupted

Ms Baneham said Ms Foley, while making her order, began to spell out her name and was interrupted by the employee, who improvised a physical representation of Ms Foley who did not ask for this.

Mr Baneham found the employee did not intend to harass Ms Foley but it is clear that the drawing “had a degrading and humiliating effect”.

The Starbucks firm did not take reasonably practicable steps to prevent the act of harassment and is vicariously liable, Mr Baneham said.

The Starbucks denied that what occurred was a racist incident.

Mr Baneham described Ms Foley’s account of the incident’s impact on her as “compelling”.

In her evidence, Ms Foley told the WRC hearing that she was “shocked and nervous” after the Starbucks employee showed her the latte cup with the slanty eyes as a way of identifying her for the collection of her latte.

She told the hearing she was too uncomfortable to collect the cup and her boyfriend collected it for her.

Ms Foley told the hearing that she felt offended as this incident demeaned her. She stated that she had been racially abused and this was not a friendly event.

Ms Foley told the hearing that she is Irish and and that she and her parents moved to Ireland from Thailand when she was five or six.

Ms Foley said her boyfriend approached the counter and spoke with the supervisor, who came to apologise.

Re-appropriate

A legal representatives for the Starbucks outlet put it to Ms Foley that an American band called “Slants” had sought to re-appropriate the depiction of eyes in the same way that “queer” had been re-appropriated by the LGBT community.

In response, Ms Foley said she wanted her name to be marked on the cup and not a depiction of eyes as this would be called out by the employee.

The Starbucks employee, who is from Brazil, said she drew a smiley face as she thought Ms Foley was glamorous.

The employee said she does not now draw on cups, unless it is for a child looking for something birthday-related. She told the hearing she was very sorry .

Mr Baneham said he accepted the employee’s evidence. “She apologised to the complainant and did not intend to humiliate her or make her feel uncomfortable… I fully accept that this was a mistake on her part and one that she regrets. I accept, therefore, that it was not the employee’s intention to harass the complainant.”

A spokeswoman for Starbucks on Tuesday said: “We are deeply sorry that this incident took place and we have no tolerance for discrimination of any kind at Starbucks.

“We accept the adjudicator’s conclusion that our partner did not intend to harass this customer and we have retrained the team at this store to ensure this does not take place again.”