Philadelphia

Fired Starbucks Employee Denies Mocking Man's Stutter

The former employee claims he never mocked the man and that the entire incident was a misunderstanding.

A former Starbucks employee who was fired after being accused of mocking a customer's stutter to his face and in writing on his coffee cup is speaking out and telling his side of the story.

"I don't like seeing my son see me fail," the 25-year-old man, who did not want to be identified, told NBC10. "I feel like a failure to my kids because of this."

Starbucks announced Wednesday that the worker was no longer employed following an investigation into the June 27th encounter at the Starbucks' café on 34th and Walnut streets in Philadelphia .

During the incident, Sam, a 28-year-old University of Pennsylvania graduate student, stuttered while giving his name during a coffee order and the barista replied: "Okay, S-S-S-Sam," according to the man's friend, Tan Lekwijit.

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Lekwijit said the mockery continued when Sam received his coffee and saw the name the barista wrote on the cup.

“His name on the cup was written as 'SSSAM,' which was disrespectful,” Lekwijit said.

According to Lekwijit, Sam wrote an email to Starbucks Customer Service after the incident. Lekwijit said Starbucks responded via email, apologizing that he “felt disrespected” for the way his name was written. He also said they offered Sam $5.

“Clearly, Starbucks missed the point. It was about how you treat people with speech impairments, not how you write names,” Lekwijit said.

After Lekwijit posted a photo of the coffee cup and recounted what happened on Facebook, Starbucks took further action and later announced they directly apologized to Sam and also fired the barista.

The former employee claims he never made fun of Sam. He also told NBC10 he has a minor facial deformity and a lisp and has gone through his own emotional struggles because of it.

"I contemplated on my life," the man said. "What's my purpose here now? Just to be someone's Guinea pig. Just to be someone's laughing stock."

The man said he feels "terribly" about the incident and called it a "big misunderstanding." He claims broken keys on the computer were to blame for the multiple "S' letters on the cup and that he wasn't mocking Sam.

"I'm sorry you felt that way," the man said. "But let it be known I'm not that guy. I'm sorry."

A spokesperson for Starbucks did not want to comment further on the incident but wrote, "We want our stores to serve as a welcoming place for everyone who visits and strive to ensure our partners provide a positive experience. We have no tolerance for this type of behavior."

NBC10 reached out to Sam and Lekwijit for a response to the fired barista's comments. We have not heard back from them.

The controversy unfolded only a few months after Starbucks came under fire when a manager at the Rittenhouse Square location called police on two black men who were waiting for a colleague but did not make a purchase.

Viral video of the arrest led to national outrage as well as major policy changes for Starbucks. The company closed locations to provide unconscious bias training to all employees and enacted a new policy that allows anyone to sit in its cafés or use its restrooms — even if they don't purchase anything.

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