(CN) – A rape victim can pursue sexual harassment claims over a “series of banana incidents” at Starbucks where her co-workers allegedly wrote her name on bananas and defaced a restroom to say, “Tina sucks bananas.”
Tina Menten says she was sexually assaulted by a roommate in April 2008, and called her friend, Shawn Forziati, while undergoing a rape kit at a hospital. Forziati was Menten’s manager at the Starbucks where she had worked since 2006 in Saugus, Mass., a suburb of Boston near Walden Pond.
Menten allegedly discussed her assault with Forziati at the hospital and on other occasions. She says Forziati helped her move into a new apartment, and talked to the Starbucks District Manager Stephen DiNisco about Menten’s situation.
When Menten came back to work, numerous employees knew about her sexual assault and expressed their sympathy. She claims Forziati told other Starbucks employees about a private matter without her consent.
In summer 2008, Starbucks began receiving shipments of bananas for fruit smoothies. Menten arrived at work one day to find a banana sticking out of a crack in the wall. Later that week, she found numerous bananas in various places around the coffee shop, including out of the top of the espresso machine and hanging off the side of the sink.
One day, a customer brought Menten a banana imprinted with the words “Owned by Tina,” which he had found sticking out of a napkin dispenser. Menten says she complained to Forziati about the banana incidents and asked, “When is this going to stop?” Forziati investigated the matter, but allegedly told Menten to “lighten up.”
Menten says she became upset in November 2008 when she found graffiti in the women’s restroom at the cafe that said, “Tina sucks dick,” and “Tina sucks bananas.” She argued with another barista later that week, and Forziati told her that she would need to talk to DiNisco before coming back to work.
Menten says she met with DiNisco, and that the manager brought up his knowledge of the “rough times” she was going through “as a result of the sexual assault.”
Allegedly unaware that Forziati had told DiNisco about the incident, Menten said she was “mortified.” DiNisco ultimately recommended to Forziati not to reinstate Menten.
Menten sued Starbucks for sexual harassment and retaliation in 2009.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo Sorokin denied Starbuck’s motion for summary judgment.
“There were a series of banana incidents culminating in a customer handing her a banana with the words written on it to the effect of ‘Owned by Tina,'” the April 26 decision states. “A jury could reasonably conclude these acts were targeted at Plaintiff and that, at least, the last act was sexual in nature. Next, Plaintiff found graffiti in the bathroom stall saying ‘Tina sucks dick.’ The next day, she discovered more graffiti behind the trash can in the bathroom that read ‘Tina sucks bananas.’ The graffiti was plainly targeted, sexual, and offensive (both subjectively and objectively).”
Forziati’s alleged disclosure of the sexual assault to other Starbucks employees also suggests evidence of harassment.
“From these facts a jury could reasonably conclude that some employees at the store as well as some employees and managers of other stores knew of and were discussing the sexual assault she suffered,” Sorokin wrote. “The jury could reasonably conclude that such widespread knowledge and discussion of plaintiff’s sexual assault was against plaintiff’s will and that it was sufficiently subjectively and objectively sexually offensive to create a ‘humiliating work environment.'”
The court disagreed with Starbucks that Menten “failed to treat the information concerning her assault as highly confidential or personal.”
“Regardless of whether this was a legitimate reason for Forziati and DiNisco to reveal the information to their supervisors, a question the court need not now decide, Starbucks offers no legitimate reason for Forziati or DiNisco to reveal the information to other Starbucks partners,” the judge concluded.