Baristas Strike Back: “Get Me Out Of This Gorilla Suit!”
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For Immediate Release:
Contact: press (at) brandworkers.org
Nov. 30, 2010
Brandworkers and Martin Garbus Pledge Vigorous Defense of Gorilla Coffee Workers
New York, NY- Legendary First Amendment litigator Martin Garbus and noted workers’ rights organization Brandworkers have taken on the representation of gourmet coffee workers being subjected to a controversial defamation lawsuit by prominent Brooklyn-based coffee company, Gorilla Coffee and its owners. After sustained attempts to improve what they viewed as a hostile work environment, the workers caused a stir in the gourmet coffee community and in the news media by resigning their employment at Gorilla Coffee as a group and discussing their decision in a letter to the New York Times. The Times, which published the letter online, and one of its reporters are also defendants in the suit which erroneously argues that the letter was defamatory. The letter is available online- http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/11/gorilla-coffee-workers-arent-coming-back/
“Retaliatory, anti-speech lawsuits like the one from Gorilla Coffee have the potential to both harm innocent people who choose to speak out and chill the speech of others who would like to make their voices heard,” said Martin Garbus. “This lawsuit is without merit and will be defended vigorously until victory.”
A well-known Park Slope institution, Gorilla Coffee was shuttered for over two weeks after essentially the entire staff resigned en masse last April. The workers took issue with what they viewed as the heavy-handed management style of operations director Carol McLaughlin and finally had enough when it became clear that company owner Darleen Scherer was unwilling to remedy the situation. In their letter to the Times, the workers cited their repeated attempts to create a tolerable work environment at Gorilla Coffee, attempts which ultimately proved unsuccessful. Instead, they were left to deal with a workplace that in their view represented a, “…perpetually malicious, hostile, and demeaning work environment that was not only unhealthy, but also, as our actions have clearly shown, unworkable.”
The workers resigned, wrote one letter discussing their negative experience, and moved on with their lives only to be hit with a vindictive and baseless lawsuit half a year later. Though an increasing number of workers find themselves in retail food service jobs, collective activity is still all too rare in the sector. Group efforts to highlight the difficulties of these low-wage jobs should be applauded, not subjected to intimidation tactics from employers.
“The former Gorilla Coffee workers are young people with a genuine passion for the world of gourmet coffee and for serving coffee-loving consumers,” said Daniel Gross, an attorney for the workers and the Executive Director of Brandworkers, a New York-based non-profit organization protecting and advancing the rights of retail and food employees. “Their decision to quit together after concluding that the work environment was beyond repair constitutes protected activity and expressing their opinion in a letter represents classic pure speech under the First Amendment. Every worker in the gourmet coffee field and beyond should know that these bullying lawsuits can be defeated and defeated decisively as we’ll show in this case.”
The New York Times story including the workers’ letter- http://dinersjournal.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/11/gorilla-coffee-workers-arent-coming-back/
Article on the lawsuit filed by Gorilla Coffee (first reported by the blog, “Fucked in Park Slope”)- http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/java_the_hurt_gorilla_coffee_sues_5sumAALHNhJie9tZQYbBUO#ixzz16WMON3NX