Class Action Lawsuits Against Starbucks: Coffee Shop Litigation

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Class action lawsuits are increasingly popular as people attempt to recoup some of their past losses from eating at Starbucks. These lawsuits are based on unfair treatment towards employees, rather than poor tasting beverages. In recent years, it has been a common occurrence to hear in the news of claims that Starbucks coffee contains far more caffeine than is advertised. Such reports are usually based on ‘back end’ surveys in which the participants are asked what they think the caffeine content in various types of Starbucks drinks is. The claims are then compared with the maximum allowed level for caffeine per serving by the company to find out if there is a discrepancy.

Class Action Lawsuits Against Starbucks

The results have often shown a significant difference between the amount of caffeine contained in various types of beverages from the local Starbucks. In addition to such claims, class action lawsuits have been brought about by large national retailers such as Coke and Jafra claiming that they did not comply with FDA regulations regarding caffeine levels when they sold their products in California.

The claims are usually based upon the idea that caffeine acts as a diuretic and depletes the body of necessary liquids, leading to dehydration, stomach pain, headaches, insomnia and more. Such cases would often be covered under a reasonable consumer protection law.

The general idea behind such claims is that because of the size and popularity of Starbucks, large quantities of coffee are consumed on a regular basis, leading to an excessive level of dehydration and other negative effects.

On top of this, large amounts of coffee are drunk at popular social gatherings, causing an increased level of dehydration risk. Such claims would probably hold true for any large US company. However, there is a strong counter-side to such complaints, namely that the caffeine content in a typical Starbucks drink would not be able to cause such adverse effects on such a large scale. Such counter-claims would more likely be based upon the fact that most major fast food chains are similarly sized, and that a smaller Starbucks would have far fewer customers, thus less opportunity to make such claims.

A second lawsuit, brought forth by plaintiffs from a similar situation in California, claim that they were subjected to unlawful employment screening processes.

Specifically, plaintiffs allege that Starbucks discriminated against them by failing to perform a standard background check upon hiring applicants. In addition, they further allege that such employment screening practices caused them to be subjected to discrimination, harassment and retaliation, leading to extreme financial and personal hardships. Again, this lawsuit would likely fail if there was no concrete evidence tying the alleged violations to the company’s failure to perform a proper background check.

Plaintiffs in both of these cases are seeking preliminary and permanent class action status, and if successful, would mean millions of dollars in damages.

Such settlements will likely depend upon the nature of the complaints, and the ability of either party to offer proof of actual damages. Most settlements reach around the $5k mark, with some cases going well over the expected amount. For example, a plaintiff in a California class action lawsuit against Starbucks could potentially recover not only court costs and court fees, but perhaps also losses related to time off work, medical bills, pain and suffering, and other related costs.

Recently, The United States Supreme Court declined to review an Eleventh Circuit ruling that had found Starbucks liable for denying employment to an applicant with a history of drug use. The Eleventh Circuit ruled that under California law, an employer may refuse to hire an applicant on the basis of that person’s drug use even though the applicant had previously passed a drug test, and had not violated any other state’s drug use regulation.

According to the Eleventh Circuit, this rule “protects employers against suits by employees who are merely trying to find work.” But the United States Supreme Court held that this rule violates the Eleventh Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection and due process. This case is presently pending and could have broad ramifications for companies throughout the country.

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