Dublin Starbucks outlet ordered to pay €12,000 over 'slanty' eyes on cup

A spokeswoman for Starbucks said today: “We are deeply sorry that this incident took place and we have no tolerance for discrimination of any kind at Starbucks."
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Gordon Deegan

A Dublin Starbucks outlet has been ordered to pay €12,000 compensation to an Irish customer with Thai heritage after an employee drew ‘slanty’ eyes on the woman’s matcha tea latte cup.

In the case, Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) Adjudication Officer, Kevin Baneham has ordered Atercin Liffey Unlimited trading as Starbucks Tallaght pay Suchavadee Foley €12,000 after finding that Ms Foley was racially harassed under the Equal Status Act when attending the outlet on January 12th 2020.

In his findings, Mr Baneham stated that it is not disputed that a Starbucks employee drew an image of a smile and ‘slanty’ eyes on the cup as a way of marking it as Ms Foley’s cup.

Punch cartoon

His report states that Ms Foley “has Thai-Irish heritage and it is clear that the visual depiction relates to her race. It is as offensive and as unimaginative as a 19th century Punch cartoon”. He said the drawing depicts ‘slanty’ eyes which he said is “clearly a reference to race”.


Ms Baneham said Ms Foley, while making her order, began to spell out her name and was interrupted by the employee, who improvised a physical representation of Ms Foley who did not ask for this.

He found that the employee did not intend to harass Ms Foley, but it is clear that the drawing “had a degrading and humiliating effect” on her.

Mr Baneham ruled Starbucks firm did not take reasonably practicable steps to prevent the act of harassment and is vicariously liable. The Starbucks outlet at hearing had denied that what occurred was a racist incident.

Starbucks sorry

A spokeswoman for Starbucks said today: “We are deeply sorry that this incident took place and we have no tolerance for discrimination of any kind at Starbucks.

“We accept the adjudicator’s conclusion that our partner did not intend to harass this customer and we have retrained the team at this store to ensure this does not take place again.”

In her evidence, Ms Foley told the WRC hearing that she was "shocked and nervous" after the Starbucks employee showed her the latte cup with the slanty eyes as a way of identifying her for the collection of her latte. She told the hearing that she was too uncomfortable to collect the cup and her boyfriend returned to the counter to collect it for her.


Ms Foley told the hearing that she felt offended as this incident demeaned her. She stated that she had been racially abused and this was not a friendly event. She said that she is Irish, and she and her parents moved to Ireland from Thailand when she was five or six.

Ms Foley told the hearing that she does not like confrontation and that after receiving the latte cup, her boyfriend approached the counter and spoke with the supervisor, who came to apologise.

Employee apology

The Brazilian Starbucks employee explained at hearing that she drew a smiley face as she thought Ms Foley was glamorous. The employee stated that does not now draw on cups, unless it is for a child looking for ‘happy birthday’ or a birthday-related drawing on the cup.

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The employee was only a month in the job at the time and said that she initially did not understand what had caused offence. The native of Sao Paulo told the hearing that she was very sorry and that she had not thought that Ms Foley would not like it.

The worker said she had sought to make the cup easy for Ms Foley to identify. She stated that her training had trained her to be 'nice'.

In his findings, Mr Baneham stated that he accepted the bona fides of the employee’s evidence.

A legal representative for the Starbucks outlet requested that the decision be anonymised because of the disproportionate impact this might have on the business but Mr Baneham turned down this request stating that there is no basis to anonymise the decision.

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