Is Charging for Non-Dairy Milk An Act of Disability Discrimination in Massachusetts?

by | Apr 12, 2024 | Discrimination |

Is charging extra for non-dairy milk an act of discrimination against people who are lactose intolerant?

This is the question three Starbucks customers are raising by filing a $5m class-action lawsuit against Starbucks for making customers who do not consume dairy pay more for their lattes and frappuccinos.

The three California customers – two from Los Angeles county, and one from Madera – are all lactose intolerant, and when they buy drinks at Starbucks, they are charged an extra fee of $0.50 to $0.80 per drink, according to a complaint filed in early March in a federal court in Fresno, California.

The coffee chain “created a separate, higher-priced menu, aimed at customers who cannot ingest milk”, the lawsuit alleges, arguing that the extra cost of soy, oat, coconut or almond “milk” at Starbucks does not reflect substantially higher retail prices for the milk alternatives.

“Lactose intolerance is a protected disability under the ADA and state discrimination laws,” Keith Gibson, an attorney for the plantiffs, said in a statement. “Millions of consumers are negatively impacted by Starbucks’s illegal discrimination.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Starbucks said the company “cannot comment on pending litigation”, but defended the company’s current approach to charging for non-dairy milk.

Several of the same attorneys in the Starbucks case previously filed similar class-action lawsuits against Dunkin’ in December 2023, and against Starbucks in Florida in 2022. The Florida plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their case against Starbucks early this March. The Los Angeles Times reported that one of their attorneys “would not say whether a settlement had been reached in that case”.

Gibson said the attorneys had no comment on the Dunkin’ and Florida Starbucks lawsuits.

According to their complaint, the California customers suing Starbucks cannot ingest milk without suffering “stomach pain, digestive tract inflammation, bloating, bowel irregularities and vomiting”. For them, “the use of these Non-Dairy Alternatives is not a choice.”

The complaint argues that Starbucks offers low-fat, non-fat, and heavy cream dairy milk free of charge, and also modifies drinks free of charge if customers need less sugar or sugar-free beverages.

In response to the Dunkin lawsuit in December, Arlene Kanter, a leading expert in disability law at Syracuse University, told NBC News that its legal argument was a strong one.

“If a person qualifies as a person with a disability, and they’re entitled to an accommodation or modification – which in this case looks pretty simple as non-dairy milk – they cannot be charged extra,” Kanter said.

Are you experiencing disability discrimination at a place of public accommodation or at your workplace or at your at your residence, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE confidential case evaluation.


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