A Black Maryland woman ordered a drink from a local coffee franchise, and, to her surprise, on the order slip her name was replaced with the word “monkey.”
Since the incident has been made public, the woman said she is “traumatized,” noting that supporters of the barista have been harassing her at work, emailing her boss about her complaining about the seemingly racially motivated diss.
On Saturday, Nov. 19, Monique Pugh went to an Annapolis Starbucks location to pick up a venti caramel Frappuccino order she made on the company’s app. Following the typical pick-up protocol at Starbucks, she approached the counter and spoke to the barista. She, in turn, asked her to give her name.
“The lady at the register asked my name and I told her, and that was it,” she said.
While waiting for the drink, she heard customers being called by their names to pick up their orders.
She never heard her name called.
She sees, according to an interview with Today.com, a barista holding her drink and acting “weird.”
“I can see from a distance, a barista picks up [my] drink and she looks at it weird, says ‘venti caramel frap’ and backed away,” says Pugh. When she went to pick up her drink, she noticed written on the paper cup, the word “monkey.”
Pugh said, “My heart just drops. It was one of those in-the-moment things where your heart just drops and you’re just like, ‘What?'”
In addition to her name not being on the cup, the order was wrong. Pugh went to another barista and asked him to fix the order. Instead of trying to accommodate the dissatisfied customer, the Black woman said, he became “very combative and argumentative.”
“If you didn’t hear my name, you should have said, ‘Excuse me, can you repeat yourself?’” Pugh said to the woman’s co-worker. “Not once did she do that. She labeled me what she wanted to label me,” WLBT reports.
She said it was then she realized she was the only Black person in the shop and there may have been something else afoot there.
“He and I were going back and forth about whether the drink was made correctly and then I had to stop myself and realized ‘monkey’ was written on my cup,” she said.
“Why am I the only Black person in the store and ‘monkey’ is written on my cup?” Pugh asked, only to be shrugged off by the male barista and told it was a mistake.
“Just with that attitude and his response, oh it’s so triggering,” she says. “Customers were looking at me and I was just embarrassed.”
Eventually, the worker gave her a refund without apologizing for the “monkey” comment, the messed-up order or his bad attitude.
Pugh immediately contacted customer service about the incident. The first person to reach out to her was the general manager of the location she was violated in. Even that person mispronounced her name on a voicemail left on her phone.
“This is not a small complaint, it’s not like my coffee was cold or I was missing my croissant,” she says. “And you couldn’t even leave a message without mispronouncing my name.”
The manager also spoke in his message about the location’s commitment to diversity, that he was a man of color, and offered to pay for a free drink and sandwich from the store to make up for the incident.
“I declined it … because that offer felt disrespectful,” Pugh says. “It was disrespectful that he’d say as a Hispanic male he understood and then offered me that.”
The corporate office confirmed that the incident happened and said the person who took the order was disciplined, but not fired.
A Starbucks representative told the press, the person was not an official worker of their company — but was employed by a franchisee, Impeccable Brands, which has initiated its own third-party investigation and will launch diversity and inclusion training for its employees.
The owner of the shop also contacted her and offered an apology. However, within minutes of the apology, he said an investigation into the incident leads his company to believe what “wasn’t intentional.”
The alleged barista thought she said “monkey,” and not “Monique.”
Amit Sehgal from Impeccable Brands also sent a statement to Pugh saying, “While we have investigated the incident and believe that our employee mistakenly labeling your cup in this way, regardless, I understand the hurt and frustration this has caused you.”
The company said it would reprogram the system so that “monkey” could never come up.
Pugh says Impeccable Brand’s apology and outreach to her were “bogus.”
“To say you’re taking the necessary steps to make sure that word isn’t put on any more customers’ drinks, it’s like, ‘What were you doing before?’” she said. “And the fact that they keep saying it was an honest mistake. So, now, it’s an honest mistake and a labeling error?”
A Starbucks spokesperson stated the company’s corporate team has reached out “directly to apologize for her experience” and to inquire about having a sit-down meeting.
Pugh confirmed an email was sent by the regional director.
The woman said the apologies were not enough to erase the shame she felt that day and the trauma she continues to feel.
She said, “And to have them apologize, but then say it was an honest mistake and a labeling error? How was that a labeling error? I was the only Black person in the store. And I bring it to your attention and your first thought is to argue with me?”
To make matters worse, she is being harassed at her job over the incident.
Someone, allegedly, emailed her boss to complain about her after her name appeared in the news as a result of the incident.
“(The email) said I was the reason that that Starbucks employee was fired and I should know what it’s like to be fired because of a race hoax,” the 20-year Starbucks customer said. “However, I am the victim in this situation, that was written on my cup! To ask for the victim to be fired…”
“I can’t even express to you what it felt like to hear my manager read that email aloud to me,” she said.
“I think what made it worse was the events following after,” Pugh stated. “It wasn’t helpful. If anything, it hurt me even more.”