Starbucks employee files sexual-harassment suit

Palo Alto worker says she was assaulted by store managerPalo Alto online

by Sue Dremann
Palo Alto Weekly Staff

A Starbucks employee filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against the company Aug. 7 alleging gender violence, assault and battery against her at the store's University Avenue location in Palo Alto, according to court documents filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court.

The suit alleges that store manager Ted de La Cruz began making offensive comments and engaged in inappropriate behavior shortly after the plaintiff began working there in 2005. De la Cruz is listed as a defendant in the suit.

De la Cruz allegedly regularly made sexually graphic comments to her, including inquiries into her sex life with her husband.

He allegedly acted inappropriately toward several other employees as well, who were penalized after complaining, the suit alleges.

By 2010, the abuse against the plaintiff became physical, the suit says, and de La Cruz allegedly touched her body and private areas. He also pinched and punched her several times, the suit states.

The harassment continued in a graphic manner, according to the suit, and she and other employees complained to superiors about the abuse to employees. In February 2013, the plaintiff complained to a supervisor. Her complaint was not kept anonymous and was made known to other employees, and she became the target of hostility, the suit alleges.

De La Cruz left Starbucks in February, but the hostility by employees and supervisors who liked him continued.

The employee was then over-scheduled five to nine hours for several weeks, despite having communicated verbally and in writing that she could not work more than 25 hours per week due to another job. She was also forced to work during her break times. She had worked for 20 to 21 hours per week for the previous eight years prior to her complaint, the lawsuit noted.

The woman's attorney, Kelly Armstrong of San Francisco, said there have not yet been any criminal charges filed against de La Cruz.

"She just wants to work in an environment free of harassment and abuse," Armstrong said.

Her client "is not in a position to leave her job because the pay and benefits are essential to her survival and well being," she said.

Starbucks University Avenue is the chain's flagship store.

"We want to send a clear message when managers and supervisors are aware of sexual harassment in the workplace, it needs to stop immediately," Armstrong said.

Starbucks spokeswoman Jaime Riley said the company takes the allegations very seriously.

"Starbucks strives to be an employer-of-choice, and we have zero tolerance for harassment in our workplace. We take these accusations very seriously. And these types of allegations are absolutely not consistent with our company values," she said in an email.

The company could not comment on the lawsuit since it is active.