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Starbucks Addresses Homophobia Allegation

Whitten and Lublin | Jun 22, 2011

Missy Alison and her daughter were sitting down at a Starbucks when she overheard a conversation taking place at a nearby table.   An employee named Jeffrey was losing his job, and for some reason his sexual orientation was a topic of discussion.  According to Alison, when Jeffrey expressed concerns about a hostile work environment he was told that “if he was not, ‘Part of the solution, he was the problem,’ and his two weeks notice would not be needed.”  When Jeffrey left, Alison allegedly heard the three women make homophobic remarks such as, “It’s not like he turned gay last week”.

What can a person do when they witness something so emotionally gut-wrenching?  It seems more and more, they are turning to social media.  In recent years, there have been many negative outcomes stemming from emotionally-driven blog posts, tweets and status updates, but it may turn out that social media outlets can also be a source of accountability for corporations.  This has already been illustrated over the past year through the response seen after TTC commuters began documenting the activities of bus drivers with smart phones.   This raises an interesting question: How much of an impact can an informed, action-oriented public have on a company’s policies and procedures?

Missy Alison wrote Starbucks a letter of complaint and “tweeted” about the experience to spread the word.  The Toronto Star reports that her blog readership went from 300 to over 100,000 in just a few days.

Starbucks replied via twitter saying, “Your blog post is very concerning. It doesn’t correspond with our values or who we are as a company” and later followed up with a phone call.  They also gained a lot of attention with the following Facebook status update that has over 4000 “likes” so far:

“We pride ourselves on being a great place to work and have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind. Please see this blog post regarding a report of a recent incident.”

Alison succeeded in drawing attention to her account of a discriminatory incident.  Starbucks responded by addressing the issue head-on in a timely manner through various social media platforms, and has impressed a lot of people, including Alison.  A proactive approach to social media can provide many benefits to employers.  In this example, Starbucks was able to make use of negative publicity to raise awareness on their company mandate for inclusive hiring practices.