Starbucks employee suspended after labeling black woman’s cup ‘Monkey’
A Maryland woman is speaking out after a Starbucks barista wrote her name as “Mono” while taking her order.
Monique Pugh said TODAY.com who has been a loyal Starbucks customer for 20 years. On November 19, she said, she visited the location inside the Annapolis, Maryland, mall and ordered a Venti Caramel Frappuccino.
“The lady at the till asked my name and I told her, and that was it,” she said, noting that she used the Starbucks app to pay and verbally told the woman working that her name was “Monique.”
Pugh said the wait for her drink was long and watched as everyone ahead of her was called by name.
“I can see from a distance, a barista takes (my) drink and she gives him a funny look, says ‘venti Caramel Frap’ and steps back.”
Pugh said he picked up the mug and saw the word “Monkey” on it.
“My heart drops,” he said. “It was one of those things where your heart just drops and you’re like, ‘What?'”
Despite the distressing word on her mug, Pugh said, she initially only engaged with the nearest barista, a man, to try to get him to make her drink, which was made incorrectly. She said he was immediately “very combative and argumentative.”
“Him and I were arguing about whether the drink was made correctly and then I had to stop and realized there was ‘monkey’ written on my cup,” she said, adding that she was the only black person in the store at the time.
She said she asked the clerk, “Why am I the only black person in the store and ‘monkey’ is written on my cup?”
Pugh said the barista shrugged and told him it was a mistake.
“Just with that attitude and her response, oh, it’s so triggering,” she said. “Customers were looking at me and I was embarrassed.”
Pugh said the barista did not apologize, but instead refunded the drink.
A Starbucks corporate representative confirmed the incident occurred, telling TODAY.com that the employee who took the order had been furloughed. They also said the store where the incident occurred was a franchise, owned by a company called Impeccable Brands.
The Starbucks representative said Impeccable Brands has also launched a third-party investigation and promised additional diversity and inclusion training for staff.
He added that the corporate team had reached out “directly to apologize for their experience” and to have a formal meeting. Pugh confirmed that the regional director had emailed him, but he had not yet responded as of Wednesday, November 30, to his note about available dates for an informal meeting.
Pugh said he left the store the day of the incident and immediately called customer service. She said the general manager of the local store contacted her first and mispronounced her first name, Monique, in a voicemail.
“This is not a minor complaint, it is not that my coffee was cold or that I was missing the croissant,” he said. And you couldn’t even leave a message without mispronouncing my name.
She said the manager touted the diversity of his staff and cited his own Hispanic heritage when he said he understood her frustrations.
Pugh said he offered to make it up to her with a free Starbucks drink and a free sandwich.
“I turned it down…because that offer seemed disrespectful to me,” he said. “It was disrespectful for him to say as a Hispanic man that he understood and then offer me that.”
Pugh said the store owner contacted her and apologized, only to later say the team had concluded the incident was “unintentional.”
She said the store owner also confirmed that the suspended barista, who she believes is white and a native English speaker, had completed the company’s anti-bias training.
In an email sent by the Starbucks corporate team to TODAY.com, Amit Sehgal of Impeccable Brands apologized to Pugh but made statements similar to what Pugh recalls.
“While we have investigated the incident and believe that our employee mistakenly labeled your mug this way, I understand the pain and frustration this has caused you,” Sehgal wrote. “We can do better. As an immediate step, I have taken action with the employee and have addressed his behavior directly with him.”
Sehgal also said that “monkey” would not be allowed to be printed on Starbucks drink tickets and that employees would be subject to additional training.
“With these steps in place, I am confident that we will do better and deliver the warm and welcoming experience that you and all other customers have come to expect from any of our locations moving forward,” Sehgal concluded in his note to Pugh. “While I know none of this can take away the pain you may have felt that day and the days that followed, I hope our actions show that we take this very seriously and value what you have shared.”
Starbucks’ corporate spokesperson confirmed to TODAY.com that the word “monkey” has been removed from its company-wide system as a possible name for an order. When asked, he said there are other “profanities” that can’t be used as names either, but he wasn’t sure exactly which ones.
Pugh told TODAY.com that the whole situation has been “very overwhelming.”
“And have them apologize, but then say it was an honest mistake and a mislabeling? How was that a labeling error? she asked. “I was the only black person in the store. And I bring it to her attention and her first thought is to argue with me?
She said someone had emailed her boss at work to complain about her after her story appeared in other media outlets.
“(The email) said that I was the reason that Starbucks employee was fired and that I should know what it’s like to be fired for a racial hoax,” he said, noting that the employee was not actually fired. “NeverthelessME I am the victim in this situation, that was written on my mug! Calling for the victim to be fired… I can’t even express to you what it felt like to hear my manager read that email out loud to me.”
Pugh said she was “traumatised” by the incident.
“I think what made it worse were the events that followed afterwards. It was not helpful,” she said. “If anything, she hurt me even more.”
Going forward, Pugh said he still wants to hear from the corporate team and encouraged others to “talk out.”
“This whole situation, you really have to speak up because companies will pledge millions to make it look like they’re helping people and minorities, but when something like this comes up, they’ll try to sweep it under the rug.” she said. “It is hypocritical. That is not right. All I have to say is that people really need to speak up, especially when they know something is wrong, when they’ve been disrespected.”