Photo by Bruce Damonte
Breaking news coming out of Northern California today as the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Four Barrel Coffee’s founder Jeremy Tooker is being accused of sexual assault and harassment.
According to the article, a lawsuit was filed today by two former employees, Megan Kepnach and Karley Webb, in the San Francisco Superior Court “alleging [Tooker] sexually assaulted multiple women, harassed others and created a toxic workplace culture for Four Barrel’s female staff members.”
From the article:
The eight women named in the lawsuit allege incidents where Tooker assaulted a female employee in a hotel room; grabbed another female employee’s neck with enough force to cause soreness; and threatened to fire a staff member for speaking to a former Four Barrel employee.
Overall, the suit depicts a company with rampant sexual misconduct, and an ownership group — led by Tooker, along with partners Jodi Geren and Tal Mor — that chose to address neither the misconduct nor employees’ complaints about it.
For the article, the Chronicle spoke with 14 former Four Barrel employees, 10 of which agreed to speak on the record and agreed “both Geren and Mor were aware of Tooker’s behavior yet did not address complaints in an official capacity.”
“Jeremy’s behavior has been an open secret for years. But it’s always been kind of shrugged off,” Umeko Motoyoshi, [now of Sudden Coffee
], who worked for Four Barrel from 2013 to 2015, told the Chronicle. “A lot of people were afraid of hurting their careers by saying something.”
According to the article, the lawsuit revolves around two company parties in 2015:
According to the lawsuit, Tooker made lewd comments during speeches to staff members at these parties, as well as simulated sexual acts with employees and forced attendees to play a game called “kiss or slap” wherein Tooker would approach employees and force them to either kiss him or slap him.
Cobrina Grieco, an employee of Josey Baker Bread at the Mill, said in the lawsuit that she attended Four Barrel’s “family night music show” anniversary party at Smiley’s Saloon in Bolinas on Oct. 8, 2015.
The lawsuit states that Tooker “forcibly grabbed” Grieco and “kissed her against her will” multiple times throughout the party. In court documents, Tooker’s actions at the Bolinas party are corroborated by fellow employees Britta Leijonflych, Tayler Mehit and Megan Kepnach.
According to the lawsuit, the following is alleged to have taken place later that night: In a hotel room reserved for Four Barrel employees, Tooker “forcefully pushed onto the bed and laid on top of” Grieco, while she said repeatedly said no. Tooker “managed to get her pants down to her thighs” and only stopped when several Four Barrel employees entered the room.
Kepnach alleges in the lawsuit that Tooker also attempted to kiss her that night in Bolinas, at one point grabbing the back of her head. One week after telling her manager, Brett Whitman, about the incidents, she was called into Whitman’s office and was told she was fired because she “was not a good fit” for the company, according to the lawsuit.
Karley Webb, a Four Barrel barista from 2014 to 2016, said she too was forcibly kissed by Tooker at the Bolinas party, according to court documents. Webb also said in the lawsuit that she went to the hospital following a different Four Barrel party, out of fear that she’d been given a date rape drug. The lawsuit does not mention if Webb brought the incident to the attention of Four Barrel management, yet the company subsequently fired her for “being difficult,” according to the filing.
Read the full story here via the San Francisco Chronicle.
Update January 6, 2018: Tal Mor and Jodi Geren of Four Barrel released the following statement on the Four Barrel blog this afternoon, picked up by the San Francisco Chronicle and other outlets.
To our valued Four Barrel Employees, Customers, and Friends,
We have reviewed the lawsuit filed on Friday. We take it very seriously and are deeply saddened. Four Barrel will not tolerate inappropriate behavior in the workplace. It’s essential that our employees and co-workers understand that they are valued and respected. We will continue to take prompt action to address any and all employee concerns, as we have done in the past.
While we investigate the matter, we want to note that Jeremy Tooker withdrew as CEO in November, before this lawsuit was filed. He also has agreed to divest his remaining ownership in the company, regardless of the outcome of the investigation. He is no longer an employee of Four Barrel and will not be affiliated with the company moving forward.
Due to the lawsuit, we can’t comment as fully as we would like, but we can say this: we take issue with the claims being asserted in the lawsuit, and the mischaracterization of our current culture.
We stand with women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and others who are frequently ignored, unheard, or unprotected in our society. We stand with those fighting every day to make workplaces safe, supportive and equal. We’re doing our part where we can have the quickest and surest effect: our own company.
We have engaged an outside HR firm to enact procedures to facilitate reporting of any concerns by employees. While we implement these changes, all of us at Four Barrel will continue to do what we love doing: supporting coffee producers, hand-roasting incredible coffees, and offering an exceptional hospitality experience.
Four Barrel is the hard work, dedication, and collaborative efforts of everyone aboard that have made it what it is today. Four Barrel is the baristas. The roasters. The venerable wholesale team. The amazing production crew. And the incredible farmers with whom we’ve worked for years. We have positively impacted communities the world over and have brought equity and sustainability to the table in a real way. We will continue to be one of the leaders in our industry, in every way we are able.
Thank you to our employees for your continuing hard work, and thank you to our patrons and supporters in the coffee community for your continued faith in us.
Jodi Geren, CFO
Tal Mor, CEO
Four Barrel Coffee
This story is developing…
Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.
*top image from We Interview Boor Bridges Architecture, San Francisco’s Cafe Design Masters by Noah Sanders