Barista Sues Starbucks for Statutory Rape

[[[[[UPDATE:  CASE SETTLED ON MAY 25, 2010]]]]]

[[[[[UPDATE:  Trial Continued until June 15, 2010]]]]]

Disclaimer:  During a particularly dark time in her life, Siouxsie worked as a barista at Starbucks.

As reported on 20/20 by ABC News, teenage barista Kati Moore filed a lawsuit against Starbucks for hostile-work-environment sexual harassment under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).  She asserts that over a period of months her shift-supervisor, Tim Horton, made daily demands on her for sex.

To prove hostile work environment, Ms. Moore will need to establish that Mr. Horton’s conduct was unwanted, and so severe, widespread and persistent that it made her work environment at Starbucks a hostile one.

That is where this case gets tricky.  Different from typical sexual harassment cases, Ms. Moore was a willing participant in the very behavior of which she now complains — sex with her shift supervisor.  This was not a have-sex-with-me-or-be-fired situation (although she and her attorneys now appear to portray it as such).

Gothic Lolita get into much less trouble at Starbucks, than the Nabokov ones.

It appears that the knee-jerk reaction is to slut-shame Ms. Moore — to argue that because she willingly had sex hundreds of times with Mr. Horton and because Ms. Moore had at least a half-dozen older sexual partners prior to Mr. Horton, she must have consented.  And that because of her “experience”, this case is totally frivolous.

It is not.  Because Ms. Moore was 16-years-old, and because the relationship constituted statutory rape under California law, a jury is entitled to determine whether Ms. Moore actually consented to the conduct in which she willingly engaged.  The jury may very well conclude that because Ms. Moore was a minor and not of the age of consent, and/or because Mr. Horton was a pervy 24-year-old,  she was not capable of “welcoming” the advances of Mr. Horton or any other older man.

And regardless of what one thinks about statutory rape laws, Starbucks dropped the ball on this one.  The manager at the store knew what was going on —

Other Starbucks employees regularly saw [Ms. Moore] and [Mr.] Horton together. Lina Nobel, the store manager, suspected that they were “doing more than just hanging out.” Nobel discussed with Starbucks’s human resources director Sarah Kelly the possibility that Plaintiff was dating [Mr.] Horton, but no investigation occurred at that time.  [Source, citations omitted.]

And after Ms. Moore’s mother alerted Starbucks to the relationship, the manager failed to ask Mr. Horton “‘whether he had had any type of sexual contact with [Ms. Moore]’ because she thought it was not her place to do so.  She did not make any credibility determination because she believed it was not her role to ‘pass judgment.”  [Source, citations omitted.]

Starbucks never conducted any investigation.  Nor did Starbucks ever discipline Mr. Horton for his conduct.  [Source, citations omitted.]

Okay, but before everyone freaks out, does this mean that Ms. Moore is entitled to millions?  Nope (at least not in Siouxsie’s view).

Even though harassment occurred, and Starbucks didn’t handle it well, Ms. Moore’s conduct will likely be used against her to reduce her damages. That she was a very willing participant, hid the relationship from Starbucks, violated Starbuck’s policy about dating other employees, and continued to see Mr. Horton even after Starbucks transferred her will impact her damages (if her case gets that far).

In spite of all of this, Ms. Moore is not bringing a frivolous lawsuit here.  She is well within the law and her rights to sue (and maybe even collect damages).  So go ahead and slut-shame the plaintiff and say that Starbucks should not have to pay her any money.  But don’t mischaracterize her case as without merit.

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~ by siouxsielaw on January 30, 2010.

8 Responses to “Barista Sues Starbucks for Statutory Rape”

  1. An interesting case. Whatever your take on statutory rape laws, the girl in question — as a matter of law — was too young to give her consent. Furthermore, there is inevitably an issue of coercion when a manager is engaging in a sexual relation with a subordinate.

    Starbuck did indeed drop the ball here. It will be interesting (from a lawyer’s viewpoint) to see if this goes to trial and what a jury does with the evidence.

  2. Nice post, Siouxsie, and I think you are spot on. I think the other issue that will affect her damages is the fact that the shift supervisor was only 23 years old at the time of the relationship. I think the jury will have a harder time to penalize Starbucks in light of the relatively small difference in age.

    But I do wonder why she is bringing it. And were there any criminal charges? I think she faces an uphill battle.

    • There were criminal charges. Tim Horton pled guilty to a felony and spent four months in prison. He was charged with a felony and not a misdemeanor because of the age difference.

      She faces an uphill battle to get millions (the judge already threw out her claim for $10 million in punitive damages). But she can probably get a nice sum in settlement (in her favor is a fee-shifting provision, some serious missteps by Starbucks, and bad pr for Starbucks). And who knows, she could do well before a jury.

      • Seven years age difference is a big thing when the girl is 16 and the guy 23. (Not so much between, say, 30 and 37).

        I must confess that I’m a recovering Plaintiffs’ Attorney so I may be biased. But I’m okay with Starbucks getting hit hard as an example to other companies. (As long as its not my client).

        Lee

  3. I agree with your analysis, but as a reader from Canada, at first I wondered if this post was some type of joke. You see, we have a fairly brisk competition up here between coffee establishments, with two of the main contenders being Starbucks and a national chain by the name of Tim Hortons. I kid you not.

  4. I was going to say – clearly, the girl is in it to cash in on the millions generated by the Tom Horton empire. (they’ve opened in nyc as well!)

  5. […] Doe v. Starbucks — teenage barista sues Starbucks for statutory rape by shift supervisor […]

  6. […] in January, Siouxsie blogged this case.  The former barista claimed that over a period of months her 24-year-old shift-supervisor, Tim […]

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