One month after Starbucks closed 800 stores nationwide to undergo a company wide racial bias training, a West Philadelphia Starbucks barista mocked a student for stuttering.
Sam, who wished not to use his last name is pursuing his doctorate at the Wharton School. The 28-year-old said he was at the coffee shop located at 3401 Walnut St. Once his order was ready, the barista called out his name by saying “OK, S-S-Sam.”
The employee even went as far to write “S-S-Sam.” on the coffee cup. “It’s rare, as an adult, that that kind of disrespect happens,” said Sam. “It happens, but it’s really rare to see it in print.”
Sam’s friend, Tan Lekwljit, posted the photo to Facebook. “I am writing this not because I want to get anybody in trouble, but because I want to raise awareness among the employees. 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.”
“Stuttering is an affliction that harms people every day,” Sam said.
Sam first reached out to the Starbucks customer service via email and received a $5 gift card. “I thought it was kind of insulting,” he said. “I also thought they didn’t take my issue seriously. It was as if they give $5 to anyone who complains about anything. I sort of got a generic email, and I didn’t feel like I was heard.”
Starbucks regional vice president Camille Hymes then reached out to Sam personally, and he appreciated that call. “As someone who studies, these kind of things [corporate decisions and operations], I believe she was sincere in her apology,” Sam said.
Heather Grossman, the director of the American Institute for Stuttering, told Philly.com, that discrimination towards people who stutter is common.
“People are often very, very insensitive,” Grossman said. “They don’t realize that [stuttering] truly qualifies as a disability. They think it’s a behavior. Or they treat it as if it’s a temporary condition.”
Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman said the issue is very serious.
“We are taking this incident seriously, and we have begun a full investigation,” Borges said. “We have a zero tolerance policy for any kind of discrimination. We don’t feel like this [discrimination] is reflective of our values or of our mission. We want everyone who comes to our stores to feel valued and to have a positive experience.”
Less than a year ago, Starbucks came under heat for a similar situation. The Daily Mail reported that a UK Starbucks also mocked Richard Procter for his stutter.
This story has been corrected. An earlier version of this story quoted Reggie Borges saying: “We need to have a zero tolerance policy for any kind of discrimination.”