CW: mentions of transphobia and homophobia
Recent store closures in the Ville have left few options for Wellesley students to work, study or relax. As a result, the Starbucks on Central Street has gained popularity for its accessibility from campus. Yet for unknown reasons, this store is merging with the one on Linden Street until January 30, 2022, effectively closing the last coffee shop in the Ville.
What many students don’t know, however, is that the new manager at this Starbucks location has been accused of transphobia towards the baristas.
To Wendy Wellesley, a barista at the store, the arrival of the new store manager originally seemed like an opportunity to fix issues like understaffing.
“Up until [the new manager] started working here, I really loved working [at Starbucks],” she said. “I loved my coworkers, and we were all really excited for her as a new store manager … especially because she had made some promises to fix issues such as scheduling and understaffing.”
However, Wendy said that her excitement was also accompanied by worry. According to the previous store manager, the incoming supervisor had alleged difficulties with understanding pronouns and queer issues. While the previous manager didn’t believe this lack of understanding was malicious or purposeful, she asked her staff members to be patient and communicate with the new supervisor.
“When she came, the atmosphere changed pretty quickly. The understaffing didn’t get fixed and she had a habit of blaming other employees for issues that were [not] their fault,” Wendy said. “As time went on, she got increasingly worse about using pronouns and started talking … about how much of a pain pronouns were and that she didn’t understand them.”
According to Wendy, it became increasingly clear that she didn’t understand gender diversity — and was not going to make measures to do so.
“She would say some deeply inappropriate things, like she’s told a coworker of mine that she has a hard time with non-binary people because she sees that they have breasts, and that reminds her that they are actually a woman,” she said.
In addition, the manager constantly misgendered baristas who were members of the transgender community. Wanda Wellesley, another barista at Central Street, recalls the store manager complaining about the complications of gender identities to numerous parties.
“We were all doing our work when we suddenly heard her talking to a customer and ranting about how she doesn’t understand pronouns and that she just feels like it is ‘too much,’” Wanda said.
Sampson Martinez experienced this first hand. Having worked at the Central Street Starbucks since April, they were a shift manager who supervised scheduling. According to Martinez, as someone who identifies as gender non-binary, their pronouns were never respected by the new Starbucks manager.
“My experience was actually really good before [the new store manager] came into it. I had a really strong crew and we were all really close and connected with one another. When someone slipped up with pronouns, it was the type of thing that was easily mentioned and apologized for and moved on,” they said. “However, when [the new store manager] came on, everything changed and [gender diversity] became something you couldn’t talk about, and if you did, it was brushed over and it wasn’t something that could be approached.”
According to Wanda, because of the store manager’s constant misgendering, she believed Martinez’s pronouns were she/her instead of they/them.
“[The manager] would constantly misgender the employee. And that means the customers would. And [because I didn’t know their pronouns], I was calling that employee she/her. It wasn’t until I talked to them that I realized their actual pronouns and that they were being harassed,” Wanda said. “It was not an accident because it would happen repeatedly. And because she was the manager and Sampson was just a shift manager, there was nothing much they [Sampson] could say or do except do their job.”
Furthermore, according to Martinez, the new supervisor was very performative with her commitment to diversity. She procured and passed out pronoun pins to all staff members, which were not only ineffective, but became a ready excuse for her misgendering.
“Throughout all of my shifts with her, [and] even when I wasn’t on shift with her, she would never use the right pronouns [for me] at all. I would correct her and she would say it was my fault that I wasn’t wearing the pin. And even when I was wearing the pin she’d be like ‘Oh well, it’s hard to [remember],’ and then gesture towards my body [as if to say], ‘You look not like what I perceive a non-binary person would look, so [it’s] not my fault you don’t pass,’” Martinez continued. “What I remember in particular was her continually saying, ‘It’s not my fault I misgendered you, you don’t have your pronoun pin on,’ and her inability to address the fact that it’s her fault for not calling me the right pronoun and never taking the responsibility for it.”
Another instance Martinez recalled in particular was when the store manager used their dead name instead of their preferred name.
“I haven’t changed my legal name yet to my preferred name, and she used my legal name on shift in front of baristas and only apologized [for] it because I refused to speak with her afterwards and told her that what she had just done was completely unethical,” they stated. “She basically has said to multiple partners that a trans person saying they use different pronouns than what they appear to look like is like a Black person saying that they are white. She said she doesn’t want to deal with [pronouns] and has laughed in their face when people have corrected her about pronouns.”
The behavior of the new store manager not only affected Martinez, but also their coworkers. According to Wanda, not only were the baristas overworked, but because they were understaffed over the summer, there would only ever be four employees working in a shop meant for nine or ten. Although the staffing situation seems to have improved at Central Street, issues with the new store manager’s leadership continued.
“The manager would blame the employees and not be understanding. Someone who worked there put it really nicely: with the old manager, she would be like, ‘There is a problem,’ but with this new manager, she’s like, ‘You are the problem,’” Wanda said.
According to Wanda, before the shortened operating hours at Central Street were introduced, employees would have to arrive before 5:30 a.m. to open the store.
“People would go a long time without taking their scheduled breaks because the demand would just never stop. So people would miss their ten[-minute break] and then miss their lunch.”
Although this is a somewhat normalized occurrence in busy storefronts, the fact that employees’ availability was never respected by the store manager compounded the issue.
“Usually the manager would go and change [the schedule] according to what the employees say, but she [the new store manager] does not do that. She just puts you on there,” Wanda recalled. “She would always say, ‘People don’t want to work,’ in response to messing up people’s schedules and putting them on the schedule [at times] when they couldn’t work.”
According to Wanda, the new manager’s leadership caused numerous baristas to transfer from the Central Street location and file complaints to the Starbucks ethics department. An anonymous petition was even started in hopes to “remove [the] transphobic Starbucks manager” from the “68A Central Street Downtown Wellesley Starbucks.”
“I really don’t care if she understands the trans issues or not, it’s her job to protect the employees and advocate for them,” Wanda said.
According to a Starbucks spokesperson, the corporation was made aware of this petition immediately and conducted a comprehensive and thorough investigation in response.
“Serving as a welcoming and inclusive place is core to who we are as a company. As such we have a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind. As soon as we were made aware of the concerns, we immediately launched an investigation and committed to reaching resolution with our partners (employees) directly,” they said.
The spokesperson further maintained that the recent merging of the Central and Linden stores had no relation to the investigation of the manager. No statement was given regarding the manager or their employment situation.
To date, 155 people have signed the petition supporting this cause. The publicity of this petition also caused numerous Wellesley students to call in and make complaints on behalf of the baristas.
“At first I had my doubts, but when upperclassmen were telling us that Wellesley really comes together for those things, they weren’t kidding,” Wanda said.