There are some companies that just can’t seem to stay out of the news and Starbucks appears to be one of them. As of late, the coffee giant has become the Paris Hilton of the corporate news gossip world. And the company’s latest little debacle isn’t doing much to quell the ire of the blogosphere. That’s because the last time I checked, finding out your coffee cup is calling you the “B-word” isn’t cool with anyone who isn’t a female canine with four legs, paws, and a tail. But hey, what do I know?
According to the report, a New York woman by the name of Vicki Reveron went into her local franchise during her work break for some java, but an employee mixed up her order. When she asked them to correct it, they did so and Reveron walked out with her drink. But it wasn’t until she got back to her office that she noticed a giant B-I-T-C-* on the side of the cup where her name should have been. Reveron claims that when she went back to the store and showed a manager the cup, all she received were some free drink coupons and some insults on the way out the door. Reveron claims the manager let her keep the incriminating cup on the condition she not disclose that it came from their local franchise, which I suppose in the paradoxical world of independently-owned franchises passing the blame to another Starbucks is the equivalent of self-preservation.
Of course, Reveron did the exact opposite and ran immediately to her local ABC News affiliate with her tale of woe, putting Starbucks back on the presses again. I mean in this month alone, Alec Baldwin has taken swipes at a New York franchise for the poor service he claimed to have received and, more recently, a Starbucks in Washington is being taken to court to the tune of $1 million after a man found a hidden camera in the store’s restroom. Though it doesn’t appear as of now that an employee was responsible for the recording device, the incident marks the third one of its kind this year to have occurred at a Starbucks. It’s like the company is a breeding ground for perverts. Or at the very least a magnet for emotional distress-based tort lawsuits.
Yes, I’m aware that Reveron hasn’t filed a civil lawsuit against the coffee giant. But come on, what are the chances this one isn’t going to end in a lawsuit? Alec Baldwin, yeah we know he’s not eyeing any legal action, but some average person with a story that’s got some new traction and a company that’s already on the ropes? There’s either going to be a lawsuit or a nice little settlement to pre-empt a lawsuit.
Fortunately for Starbucks, Reveron’s case doesn’t hold much water. As far as I can tell the only viable case she can pursue is one for the either negligent or intentional infliction of emotion distress, and both are long shots.
As mentioned many times before on this blog of ours, suing someone or something for any negligence-based harm requires the showing of five elements: duty, breach of duty, cause, proximate cause, and damages. Without boring you again with the details of each since they’re all detailed quite well here, I’ll just skip to her main problem: damages. For negligent infliction of emotion distress one generally must suffer either personal physical harm or at the very least witness an immediate family member be physically injured or be threatened with violence. Being labeled a derogatory word, though incredibly rude, doesn’t rise to the type of emotional distress traditionally recognized by our country’s legal system.
Intentionally infliction of emotional distress on the other hand is another story, but one with the same ending. That’s when a person acts purposely, unlike by accident as in the case of negligence, to harm another person’s emotional well-being. But once again, the threshold requirement for this is that the emotionally disturbing activity must be extreme and outrageous beyond what is tolerated in civilized society (don’t you just love law professors?). Things like racial and sexual discrimination or falsely imprisoning a person can meet this requirement. However, once again, the B-word doesn’t go near it.
So it would seem that Starbucks is safe from any legal repercussions. Unfortunately for them, bad press isn’t limited by the bounds of the legal world. Like it often does, it supplants all legal truths and just makes you lose money. Which means the best route, in my opinion, is still to settle this one and get out while before the story gets any more traction.
On a side note, did anyone not foresee the inevitable abuse of Starbucks’s practice of labeling customer’s cups with the customer’s name? Like bacteria, leaving such a practice in place alone to fester and grow can only lead to bad news.