The D.C. Office of Human Rights has found probable cause that the Starbucks coffee shop at Dupont Circle discriminated against a gay male couple based on their sexual orientation and based on the Hispanic race of one of the two men.
The action by the OHR, which is considered a civil version of an indictment, is based on a complaint filed by Michael Campbell, 31, and Angel Rivera, 23, that Starbucks manager Christian Lokossou subjected them to a harrowing confrontation during their visit to the Starbucks at Connecticut Avenue and R Street, N.W. on May 18, 2014.
Separate complaints filed by each of the two men charge that Lokossou started a verbal confrontation with Campbell possibly after seeing him and Rivera kiss one another as they placed their order with another employee.
Minutes later, both complaints state, Lokossou chased after them as they left the store, shouting anti-gay slurs at them before bumping into Campbell with his shoulder and chest as startled customers seated in an outdoor patio looked on.
“You are fucking with the wrong one and I will break your neck you little fag, and I will break your spic boyfriend’s neck as well,” the two complaints quote Lokossou as saying.
In a 15-page Letter of Determination of probable cause in Campbell’s complaint, OHR Director Monica Palacio says an OHR investigation that included interviews with several witnesses considered to be impartial found that Campbell established a “prima facie” case that discrimination occurred.
“OHR finds probable cause to believe that Respondent discriminated against Complainant on the basis of his sexual orientation on May 18, 2014 when Respondent’s Manager ordered Complainant to leave the establishment, called Complainant a ‘faggot,’ and threatened to harm him,” the letter of determination states.
“OHR [also] finds probable cause to believe that Respondent retaliated against Complainant by banning him from Respondent’s store after he filed a complaint with OHR alleging that Respondent was discriminated on the basis of his sexual orientation on May 18, 2014,” the letter states.
In a separate 10-page Letter of Determination in Rivera’s complaint, Palacios states, “OHR finds probable cause that Respondent discriminated against Complainant on the basis of his race (Hispanic) and sexual orientation (homosexual).”
Palacio’s letter adds, “The record, including disinterested witness statements, indicate that Respondent’s manager called Complainant a ‘spic’ and a ‘fag,’ while threatening Complainant and his partner with physical violence, which resulted in Complainant receiving services in a markedly hostile manner while he was patronizing Respondent’s store on May 18, 2014.”
At the time Campbell and Rivera filed their complaints, a Starbucks spokesperson told the Washington Blade the company was investigating the claims made by the two gay men but it has a longstanding policy of never commenting on pending litigation.
But the spokesperson, Laurel Harper, added, “At Starbucks we want all of our customers to have a positive experience. We have zero tolerance for discrimination and take this type of accusation seriously.”
Brian Markovitz, the attorney representing Campbell and Rivera, said the fact that higher up Starbucks officials continue to side with Lokossou and that the district manager made the decision to bar Campbell from returning to the Starbucks store shows that the company is responsible for the alleged discriminatory actions.
But according to a summary of Starbucks’ position on the case stated in Palacio’s finding of probable cause, Campbell acted in a hostile way toward Lokossou during a January 2011 incident in which Lokossou claims Campbell shouted obscenities at him when he closed the Starbucks store earlier than the normal closing time due to a snowstorm.
With that as a backdrop, Starbucks claims that Campbell was the aggressor in the 2014 incident, Palacio states in her probable cause finding.
“Respondent states that on May 18, 2014, Complainant visited Respondent’s store and initiated another altercation with Manager, calling Manager names and threatening acts of physical violence,” Palacio reports Starbucks as saying. “Respondent contends that when the Manager went outside to the patio, Complainant followed, continuing to harass Manager,” Starbucks alleges.
Palacio says the OHR investigation included statements from witnesses sitting in the patio who backed up Campbell and Rivera’s assertions that Lokossou was clearly the aggressor and that he called the two men names and deliberately bumped into Campbell, which at least one witness viewed as an assault.
Markovitz said an OHR official contacted him on May 13 informing him that OHR has certified the case to advance to the D.C. Commission on Human Rights, which is charged with holding a public evidentiary hearing that includes testimony by witnesses before it makes a final decision on whether discrimination has occurred.
He said that under OHR rules, his clients and Starbucks entered into discussions as part of a mandatory conciliation process to determine if the case could be resolved without a hearing. The negotiations failed, Markowitz said, after Starbucks declined to make a serious settlement offer.