A dispute over Dunkin’ Donuts‘ free Wi-fi policy prompted a store owner to dial police on one of its most loyal customers.
On Facebook, Tirza Wilbon White posted video of her exchange with Dunkin’ franchise owner Christina Cabral when she stopped by the Fairfax, Va. store on Nov. 7. White said she has frequented the store for two years and took to her usual task of ordering a coffee and working on her laptop while using the store’s free Wi-fi.
“I had just sat down when a woman I had never seen before walked up and asked, ‘Are you going to buy coffee?’” White, 46, told Yahoo Lifestyle. “I told her I planned on buying coffee after I got settled, but not if it were mandated.”
The drama unfolded when White says Cabral claimed that the Wi-fi was only for paying customers and that she’d have to purchase an item or leave. To make her point, Cabral motioned to another Black customer in the store and noted that he’d purchased his food before hopping on the store’s free Internet service.
White said she suspected she was being racially profiled and pressed Cabral, who identified herself as a “quality control” manager, on whether the white customers were being held to the same standard. She also wondered why there were no signs posted at the store detailing the Wi-fi policy.
That’s when Cabral grew agitated, ordering White to order a coffee or leave.
“A franchise owner attempted to bully me,” the mother of three wrote in a Facebook post. “She lied about corporate policy [and] attempted to force me to make a purchase to be in the store because she has a loitering problem. She called police to force me to leave when I told her she was profiling the gentleman and me. In her mind, I was the people who loiter. In reality, I was a customer in her store, until yesterday, and I have been for more than 2 years.”
In one of the videos, Cabral is heard explaining that she’s actually the franchise owner, and as a franchisee, “I get to make my own rules … I need to ensure safety to my customers.” The owner goes on to cite problems she’s had in the past with customers who did not make purchases.
“They hang out here for eight hours, they get into fights and it is what it is,” she says, adding, “It’s nothing against you. We’re just trying to make our customers feel safe.”
When White pointed out that only she and another African-American patron were asked to make a purchase, Cabral blew up, saying, “Oh please. Don’t get into the racial profiling. It’s my family. I find that offensive … I treat everyone the same.”
The two briefly exchange words before Cabral realizes she’s being recorded and picks up the phone to dial 911.
“This is what it means to be black in America,” White wrote. “I’m still angry more than 24 hours later, and I want justice for the humiliation I experienced. The owner, Christina Cabral, and her family own several Dunkin’ Donuts locations throughout Maryland and Virginia. I am not the only one they have treated this way, but hopefully, I will be the last one they treat this way.”
The incident comes a month after University of New Mexico professor Timothy Nelson was also booted from a Dunkin’ store over the same Wi-fi policy. There, an employee said Nelson had to because of a so-called “one hour” rule for customers.
In a second video posted to Facebook, White spoke with an officer who explained that she must leave because the owner “wants you to.”
“Am I in trouble if I choose not to leave?” she asks the officer. He responds, “Yeah, if you choose not to leave, I will order you to leave. … I would issue you a summons and then if you don’t sign the summons, then I would have to arrest you.”
She eventually agreed to leave.
On Wednesday, White provided an update on the incident and said that two reps for Dunkin’ Donuts had reached out to her to apologize. She said the matter still isn’t resolved, however.
“I feel sad and frightened. It hurts deeply,” the former University of Maryland professor told Yahoo Lifestyle. “People have remarked how calm I was, but as a black person, I’ve learned to perform for my safety. I’m scared for other people who may have responded more authentically in a less controlled manner when they’re being humiliated. And those are the people I spoke up for.”
Dunkin’ Donuts later addressed the incident in the following statement:
“We and our franchisees want every customer who walks into a Dunkin’ restaurant to be treated with dignity and respect. This did not happen in a situation at a restaurant in Fairfax, Virginia. We have apologized to the customer, on behalf of both the brand and the franchisee who owns and operates this restaurant, but we know that is not enough.”
Watch more in the videos below.