Gay Starbucks Worker’s Bias Lawsuit Now Brewing in Federal Court

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By Jay-Anne B. Casuga

Nov. 18 — Starbucks Corp. is taking to a federal court in California its defense against sexual orientation bias and harassment claims brought by a gay former barista who alleged he was told to “man up” and “control” his mannerisms ( Horne v. Starbucks Corp. , E.D. Cal., No. 16-2727, removed 11/16/16 ).

The company Nov. 16 removed Chad Horne’s lawsuit from a state court to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. Horne has 30 days to challenge the move.

The case serves as a reminder that despite the current legal debate over whether federal law prohibits workplace bias based on sexual orientation, many states provide such protection. California is one of 23 states that bar sexual orientation bias in employment.

Worker Told to ‘Tone It Down.’

Horne, who worked at a Starbucks location in Auburn, Calif., alleged he was subjected to physically threatening contact from male co-workers and hostile comments about his sexual orientation from female managers.

Male co-workers once squeezed Horne between their bodies in a threatening manner, according to Horne’s complaint, which was filed Sept. 29 in a California superior court. In another incident, they embarrassed him by bending in front of him “with their buttocks in the air,” he alleged.

Horne complained to managers, one of whom allegedly used a homosexual slur against him and said, “You’re a grown man, you don’t have to behave so gay.” He further claimed that general and regional managers told him to “tone it down” and asked him if he could “control” his mannerisms.

Horne’s attorney told Bloomberg BNA Nov. 18 that those managers “engaged in unfair conduct toward him just because of his sexual orientation.”

“He had no other choice but to quit his employment,” said Roman Otkupman of the Otkupman Law Firm in Woodland Hills, Calif.

Horne’s complaint includes a claim for constructive discharge in violation of California public policy, in addition to state law bias, harassment and retaliation claims. It also includes state wage-and-hour claims alleging that Starbucks failed to provide him with rest periods and failed to pay his final wages.

A Starbucks attorney declined to comment on the lawsuit Nov. 18, but a company spokesman told Bloomberg BNA that Starbucks takes the allegations “very seriously.”

“Our policies absolutely prohibit discrimination or harassment of any kind, and we are committed to treating each other with respect and dignity,” he said. “But given that this is pending litigation, we have no further comment at this time.”

Rita Leong of the Otkupman Law Firm also represents Horne. Danielle Ochs and Andrea L. Fellion of Ogletree Deakins in San Francisco represent Starbucks.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jay-Anne B. Casuga in Washington at jcasuga@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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