A Starbucks branch in Dublin has been ordered to pay compensation to a customer of Thai heritage after an employee drew “slanty” eyes on her cup.
Atercin Liffey Unlimited, trading as Starbucks Tallaght, has to pay Suchavadee Foley €12,000 (£10,680).
The incident happened on 12 January 2020 when Ms Foley went into the outlet to buy a matcha tea latte.
The Workplace Relations Commission found Ms Foley was racially harassed under the Equal Status Act.
Ms Foley attempted to give a shortened version of her name at the counter as she made her order so it could be written on the cup.
Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer Kevin Baneham said it was not disputed that a Starbucks employee drew an image of a smile and what was referred to in the hearing as “slanty” eyes on the cup as a way of marking it as Ms Foley’s cup.
He said it was “clear that the visual depiction relates to her race” and it was “as offensive and as unimaginative as a 19th Century Punch cartoon”.
‘Clearly associated with race’
Ms Foley told the hearing she felt offended and demeaned by the incident.
She said she had been racially abused and it was not a friendly event.
Ms Foley said she was Irish, and she and her parents had moved to Ireland from Thailand when she was five or six.
In his judgement, Mr Baneham said that instead of Ms Foley’s name being used on her cup, “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 added.
Mr Baneham accepted the employee “did not intend to humiliate her or make her feel uncomfortable” and that “this was a mistake on her [the employee’s] part and one that she regrets”.
The employee, who is from Brazil and gave evidence through a translator, said she had drawn a smiley face on the cup “as she thought the complainant was glamorous”.
She had been working at the branch for about a month when the incident happened and said she had been “trained to be nice”.
The employee said she no longer drew on cups, unless a child was looking for a birthday-related drawing.
Making its case, the branch said CCTV footage showed the incident had been “benign” and the “complainant had not been treated less favourably and others would have drawings composed of them”.
It was also argued the branch had taken “reasonably practicable” steps to prevent employees committing prohibited conduct.
A spokeswoman for Starbucks said it was “deeply sorry”.
“We have no tolerance for discrimination of any kind at Starbucks,” she said.
“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.”