Starbucks accused of ‘hypocrisy’ over trans advert by employee who quit after being misgendered

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Starbucks melted hearts with its recent advert starring a young trans man, but employees have complained that the coffee giant isn’t always as trans-inclusive behind the scenes.

Starbucks was widely applauded last week after it released an advert following a young trans man changing his name.

Along with the clip, which aired for the first time on February 2, the coffee chain pledged to raise at leat £100,000 for the trans youth charity Mermaids by selling cookies shaped like a mermaid’s tail.

Amid a warm response from the LBGT+ community and its allies, a number of past and present employees have criticised Starbucks for not living up to its promise of being trans-inclusive.

Maddie Wade sued the company for discrimination in 2018, alleging that her manager had misgendered her and engaged in other hostile behaviour.

Her case was dismissed by a Fresno County Superior Court judge last year, with the ruling stating that Starbucks had remedied the situation by transferring her to another location.

A lawyer for Wade – who resigned from Starbucks and is currently appealing the court ruling – said that the Mermaids advert amounted to hypocrisy.

Attorney Arnold Peter called it “a cruel slap in the face to their own employees who have faced hateful and derogatory discrimination in the workplace”.

“The company’s attempt at marketing their position on inclusion and gender equality is both phony and hypocritical to their own employees who have faced discrimination while working in their stores,” Peter told The Advocate.

“How are we to believe this kind of message when Starbucks’ own attorneys forcefully argue that misgendering and other hostile behaviour endured by a transgender employee does not constitute harassment or discrimination?”

Starbucks insists that intentional misgendering goes against its harassment and discrimination policies.

The company said that it worked with Wade throughout her transition, including giving her time off after medical procedures, and would welcome her back if she decided to return.

At trial it argued that Wade wasn’t harassed or discriminated against using her own testimony as evidence.

After the ruling a spokesperson said that Starbucks did not believe the bar had been met for harassment “in this case”.

Trans employees face struggles to get surgeries covered.

Jamison Schwartz and Elaine Cao both joined Starbucks after the company announced it would be expanding its health insurance plan to cover procedures such as top surgery and facial feminisation surgery.

The policy was widely lauded, however both Schwarts and Cao said they ran into difficulties obtaining coverage.

Schwartz told Buzzfeed a request to cover his top surgery was denied three times.

Cao ended up taking legal action against the company to get the costs of her bottom surgery reimbursed, having been fortunate enough to pay them upfront through a bank loan.

“The insurance company just made it up and they were like, ‘We can’t pay for it,'” she told Buzzfeed.

“I had to threaten the insurance company with lawsuits to get that through.”

Trans man was deadnamed by Starbucks software.

Another employee, Tucker Jace Webb, received an apology from Starbucks after complaining about his experiences as a trans employee on Twitter.

Both Webb and Cao said they had been outed as trans by managers.

One of Webb’s “thought that it was appropriate to tell of my shift supervisors about [his] trans identity”, while another used his transness as “a political example” during an argument about respecting people’s identities, he told Buzzfeed.

He also was unable to get gender-affirming surgery covered by his healthcare, and ended up having a procedure done through his parents’ insurance.

After Webb’s tweet went viral, Starbucks quickly apologised and promised to investigate.

He said that he appreciated the gesture, but was disappointed that it had taken a public shaming for them to act.

At a basic level Webb said he feels the issue is one of communication. He said that although Starbucks has many trans-inclusive policies, they aren’t implemented correctly at store level.

“I feel like some type of training needs to be mandated,” Webb said.

A Starbucks spokesperson told PinkNews that it was currently in contact with each of the individuals that spoke to Buzzfeed “to better understand the details and address each situation”.

“We take great pride in creating a warm and welcoming environment for everyone,” they said in a statement.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy for harassment, and intentional misgendering is not acceptable conduct at Starbucks.

“These behaviours do not align with our mission and values, nor with our employment policies regarding harassment and discrimination.”