Starbucks isn't super happy about that story I wrote yesterday about former barista Coulson Loptmann, which is understandable. "Starving barista on food stamps fired for eating expired sandwich" isn't the best PR. But while yesterday, Starbucks spokesman Zack Hutson said "we do not discuss individuals' employment history out of respect for their privacy," today, it turns out he does want to talk more specifically about this individual's employment history.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, who picked up the story, Hutson confirmed that Starbucks fired Loptmann and added that while the coffee giant "sympathizes with [Loptmann's] personal situation," he had "multiple documented performance issues in the past year, including failing to show up for shifts as scheduled."
Yesterday Hutson refused to comment on specific past performance issues, and Loptmann insisted he didn't have any "ongoing performance issues." He didn't mention missing a shift or having any other problems.
So I called both Hutson and Loptmann for more info. Hutson wouldn't give HuffPo or me further specifics, but said that at Starbucks, "managers want our partners to succeed, and regularly coach them if they are having performance challenges." Firing decisions, he said, are made "holistically," and while eating marked-out food is a violation of policy, "in most cases [we] would coach a partner for violating it if they otherwise were performing well." In Loptmann's case, Hutson says, "he was let go for violating our mark-out policy only after being disciplined for ongoing performance issues."
Loptmann says yes, there was a day he did miss a shift, "about three months ago, maybe four." He says he apologized and assured his manager it would never happen again. Was that the only time? "The only one in my entire history," he says. I asked him to think of any other problems he'd ever had at work. He says he'd been late a few times, and once got written up when he wasn't getting along with a coworker. In that case, he says, he asked to sit down with the manager and his coworker to work it out, which they did. "But I still had a write-up, even though everybody agreed that it had been resolved," he says. Which makes it the kind of "documented performance issue" you can bring up when you, say, fire someone for eating a sandwich.
Which is exactly what Starbucks did, according to the paperwork he received when he was fired, which he shared with The Stranger.
The "corrective action form" says, "This document shall serve as separation for violating Starbucks policies relative to markouts." (A PDF of the form is right here, and he notes that he recently changed his last name.) It continues, saying he had "admitted to taking and eating marked out product," and citing the policy on what do with expired food. It doesn't mention any other issues with his performance.
He insists he didn't feel he had any ongoing issues with his boss—that's why he told me he didn't—and was "blindsided" when he was told he was being fired, and why. "Everybody makes mistakes. But when it culminates in getting fired for taking food out of the trash when I didn't have anything to eat that day, it's really extreme."
He still maintains he doesn't have hard feelings toward the manager who fired him. "If I saw her on the street, I would have no problem talking to her." And when it came to actually barista-ing, he enjoyed the work. "If you got paid a living wage, I'd be pretty content with it," he says. He had been there for more than a year, and is planning to go back to school as soon as he can afford it. And it's that regular everyday stuff that makes Loptmann relatable. Yeah, it's not good to be late to work. But missing one shift in a year? Missing the bus sometimes? Who doesn't have a couple things over the course of a year that could be dredged up if your employer wanted to prove you'd made mistakes? Like, perhaps, if they were having a bit of a PR nightmare because they'd done something less than classy?
Low-wage workers of all stripes are galvanizing a movement based on fighting the little things as well as the big things—struggling to get enough hours to pay the bills, wishing you could be treated with a little more respect by the big companies profiting more off your labor than you do. This is just one story of many, and that's why it matters.