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Manager Says Starbucks Was Out of Line

BROOKLYN (CN) - Starbucks harassed a manager by claiming she is lesbian, which she is not, told her "perception is reality," and then fired her, the woman claims in court.

Alicia Brooks sued Starbucks in Kings County Court.

Brooks says she started working for Starbucks in February 2005 and was a store manager earning $52,000 a year when it fired her 7 years later.

Brooks says in the complaint that in January 2012 she granted a request from an employee named Juliette, who wanted to transfer to another store.

"Juliette returned and advised plaintiff that she called the police for reasons unknown to plaintiff," the complaint states. "Police arrived at the store and arrested plaintiff for allegedly assaulting Julie, which could not be further from the truth. Subsequently Juliet dropped all the charges and stated that it was a misunderstanding and said she did not mean for anything to go this far."

But it was too late; the Starbucks juggernaut had started rolling, Brooks says.

She says she was suspended for two weeks, without any investigation.

Two higher-ups then called her to a hearing, where, "rather than listening to plaintiff's complaints, she was accused being in a 'close relationship,'" the complaint states. "Their definition of a 'close relationship' was being in personal/sexual lesbian relationship with Juliette.

"In addition, plaintiff was ordered to sign an acknowledgement admitting that she has had an 'improper' (implying sexual) relationship with Juliette.

"Plaintiff was devastated, embarrassed, humiliated, degraded and was caused to

suffer emotional distress as a result of being called a lesbian and for allegedly

engaging in a sexual relationship with Juliette. Plaintiff was not and is not gay; nor has plaintiff ever had a gay, lesbian, and/or sexual relationship with Juliette.

"Plaintiff refused to sign the acknowledgment since it was simply not true despite knowing that defendant Starbucks would retaliate against her.

"The defendants retaliated against the plaintiff for refusing to sign the acknowledgement by accusing her of lying, telling her that their perception is reality and scrutinizing her in a manner where other employees in her position have not been scrutinized." (Parentheses in complaint.)

Brooks claims Starbucks continued the retaliation by refusing her request to transfer to another store, but sending her back to "the original store where she had been ridiculed, where rumors of her being a lesbian and engaging in a relationship with Juliette were rampant and told, 'running is not the solution.'"

Brooks claims that a second defendant, Deja Fraser, singled her out for harassment. The complaint does not state what position Fraser, whose first name is also spelled Dija, had at the store.

"Defendant Deja Fraser stated to plaintiff, 'Are you going to tell me you and Juliette were not in a relationship?' and after plaintiff adamantly denied such sexually hostile allegations, defendant Deja Fraser continued by stating, 'Perception is reality.'

"This was a phrase that defendant Deja Fraser used over and over again, any and all opportunities she had and often in front of other employees (further instigating the sexual harassment), 'perception is reality' implying that plaintiff appears to be a lesbian and as such, must be one." (Parentheses in complaint.)

Brooks claims that Fraser repeated the allegations "in a relentless manner."

She claims that another manager repeated these allegations in a meeting of 11 managers.

Then a Starbucks employee began posting "comments on social network sites labeling the plaintiff as a lesbian and would come to work following such postings and discuss comments with fellow employees and even customers," according to the complaint.

Starbucks did not discipline her harassers, but after Brooks reported, and objected to, the continuing harassment, Starbucks fired her, she says.

She seeks lost wages and benefits, front pay and benefits, and punitive damages for discrimination, retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and injury to reputation.

She is represented by Emrat Polat with Akin Law Group.

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