Gay Man Files Discrimination Complaint Against D.C. Starbucks

Via The Washington Blade:

A gay man has filed a discrimination complaint with the D.C. Office of Human Rights charging the manager of the Starbucks at 1700 Connecticut Ave., N.W., in Dupont North with calling him and his boyfriend anti-gay names and assaulting him in an altercation outside the store.

Michael Campbell, 30, and Angel Rivera, 22, both D.C. residents, told the Washington Blade that Starbucks manager Christian Lokossou subjected them to a harrowing confrontation during their visit to the popular coffee shop last May 18.

Among other things, the two said he started a verbal confrontation with Campbell – possibly after seeing the two kiss one another as they placed their order with another employee. Minutes later, the two said, Lokossou chased after them as they left the store, hurling anti-gay slurs at them before bumping into Campbell with his shoulder and chest – all while startled customers seated in the patio looked on.

“You are fucking with the wrong one and I will break your neck you little fag, and I will break your spic boyfriend’s neck as well,” Campbell’s complaint quotes Lokossou as saying.

The complaint, which was filed with the D.C. Office of Human Rights on Nov. 24, 2014, charges that due to Lokossou’s action, Starbucks violated the D.C. Human Rights Act’s provision banning discrimination by a place of public accommodation based on Campbell’s sexual orientation and race.

The complaint says Campbell has been a regular customer at the Starbucks store at Connecticut Avenue and R Street, N.W. It says he has been subjected to “verbal abuse” by Lokossou in at least one prior run-in in 2011

“Respondent’s manager also treats me (white-Italian) differently than other customers (non-white),” the complaint states.

“At Starbucks we want all of our customers to have a positive experience,” Laurel Harper, a Starbucks spokesperson, said in an email in response to an inquiry by the Blade. “We have zero tolerance for discrimination and take this type of accusation seriously,” she said.

“We are investigating the claims in this case; however, because this involves pending litigation, we are unable to discuss any further,” Harper said.

The Blade couldn’t immediately reach Lokossou for comment.

The D.C. Office of Human Rights has a strict policy of not commenting on discrimination complaints filed with the office until it makes a determination of probable cause the alleged discrimination occurred.

A letter to Campbell dated Dec. 17, 2014, by Georgia A. Stewart of the D.C. Office of Human Rights, which Campbell released to the Blade, states, “The D.C. Office of Human Rights is in receipt of your charge of discrimination against Starbucks.”

Stewart’s letter informed Campbell of a required mediation process that all those who file discrimination complaints must participate in with the party being accused of discrimination.

According to Campbell, the mediation failed to result in a resolution of the case after Starbucks declined to accept any of his proposals for resolution, including an agreement that Lokossou be required to undergo counseling and some type of sensitivity training on how to deal with LGBT customers in a city with a diverse population.

Campbell said he held off for nearly six months before he filed his complaint with the hope that he could work something out privately with Starbucks. He said Starbucks’ D.C. area district managers appeared to be ignoring his calls until he sent an email directly to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who is an outspoken supporter of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.

Campbell and Rivera said the incident that led to the complaint began when they entered the Starbucks store in May 2014 on a bright pleasant day intending to indulge in their beloved coffee drinks.

They said Lokossou bristled when Campbell politely greeted him at the cash register by saying “hello Christian.” They said he responded by rudely asking them if they were finished with their order and ready to leave the store.

The two said they aren’t sure if Lokossou saw them innocently kiss one another minutes earlier, but they think he did see their display of affection.

“You are a joke, you are crazy, everyone sees you are crazy,” Campbell’s complaint quotes Lokossou as saying to Campbell in a voice loud enough for other customers to hear. Campbell said he responded by calling Lokossou “homophobic” and raised his middle finger toward the manager before he and Rivera left the store.

Seconds later, according to Campbell’s complaint, Lokossou followed them outside the store onto an outdoor patio area and shouted, “You are fucking with the wrong one and I will break your neck, you little fag, and I will break your spic boyfriend’s neck as well.”

Rivera said as many as six Starbucks employees rushed out of the store behind Lokossou shouting at him to return to the store. “Stop, it’s not worth it,” Rivera quoted one of the employees as saying to Lokossou.

As the commotion unfolded Campbell said he frantically tried to call the Starbucks regional manager’s office on his cell phone to report the incident as he and Rivera walked across R Street and then across Connecticut Avenue while Lokossou continued to follow them.

“I should have called 911 but I didn’t,” Campbell told the Blade. He said he called the Starbucks regional manager because he had contacted that office before about a previous verbal run-in with Lokossou.

With Lokossou approaching him in a rage, Campbell said he put his phone on its speaker setting and told Lokossou his regional boss was on the line listening.

Campbell said Lokossou responded by stopping his name-calling, but said he approached Campbell and “shoulder-bumped” and “chest-bumped” him in an action that Campbell and Rivera considered an assault.

With his employees shouting for him to return to the store, Lokossou eventually stopped following Campbell and Rivera, the two said, but not before he made a slashing motion with his hand across his throat. The two said they viewed that as a threat to slash their throats.

At least one witness, Tammy Haziel, a D.C. parking enforcement officer, told Campbell she was so offended by what she saw that she offered to provide him with a statement and talk to investigators if Campbell decided to file a complaint.

“I observed that manager named Christian call Mr. Campbell and Mr. Campbell’s friend every name in the book – spic, faggot, you name it,” she told the Blade in a telephone interview. “It was foul. It was disrespectful.”

Haziel said she also saw Lokossou assault Campbell.

“He used his body and rammed himself into Mr. Campbell,” she said. “It’s clear that he has a problem. I don’t know what that problem is, but he has a problem.”

As the two were driving home, Campbell said he spoke to the first in a series of Starbucks officials he communicated with over the next several months in an effort to persuade Starbucks to take action against Lokossou and prevent a similar incident from happening again.

He said his initial aim was to resolve the matter internally with Starbucks. Rather than calling for Lokossou to be fired Campbell said he initially urged the company officials he spoke with to provide Lokossou with counseling and some type of diversity training.

Instead, Campbell said, Starbucks officials declined those suggestions and offered to resolve the matter by giving him a $100 gift card. Campbell said one of the officials, a Starbucks district manager, told him he was welcome to return to the Dupont North store but it would be best if he did so during the hours when Lokossou was not on duty.

Campbell said he filed a police report seeking to bring an assault charge against Lokossou in February. He said the Metropolitan Police Department’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit took the report. He said police told him later that a judge declined to approve an arrest warrant against Lokossou on grounds that Campbell waited too long to contact police to file the report.

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