Irish Starbucks outlet ordered to pay RM59,000 to customer after barista drew ‘slanty’ eyes on her cup

Sylvia Looi
·2-min read
A Starbucks outlet in Ireland was ordered to pay a customer after a barista drew slanty eyes on the customer’s cup. — Reuters pic— Reuters pic
A Starbucks outlet in Ireland was ordered to pay a customer after a barista drew slanty eyes on the customer’s cup. — Reuters pic— Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 22 — A Starbucks outlet in Dublin, Ireland, was ordered to pay €12,000 (RM58,959.42) to an Irish customer with Thai heritage after its barista drew “slanty” eyes on the woman’s matcha tea latte cup, The Irish Times reported.

Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer Kevin Baneham ordered Atercin Liffey Unlimited, trading as Starbucks Tallaght, to pay Suchavadee Foley after finding that Foley was racially harassed during a visit to the outlet on January 12 last year.

Baneham said it was not disputing that the barista drew an image of a smile and “slanty” eyes on the cup as a way of marking it as Foley’s cup.

He said 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”.

“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,” he said.

Baneham noted the employee did not intend to harass Foley but it was clear that the drawing “had a degrading and humiliating effect”.

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

In her evidence, 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.

Foley, who moved to Ireland from Thailand with her parents when she was five or six years old, told the hearing that she was too uncomfortable to collect the cup and asked her boyfriend to get it for her.

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

The employee, who apologised over the incident, said she had stopped drawing on cups, unless it was for a child looking for something birthday-related.

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 had since apologised for the incident.

“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.”