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Starbucks Fired A College Student For Posting Jokes On TikTok About Demanding Customers

In a viral TikTok that Eli has since deleted, he jokes about throwing drinks out the window when a customer complains.

Posted on March 22, 2021, at 6:32 p.m. ET

A 19-year-old college student in Indiana was fired by Starbucks for a viral TikTok in which he joked about how he and his coworkers would like to respond to demanding customers.

Eli said he doesn’t feel his firing was justified, but he “would trade all of [his] views and likes for [his] job back” right now.

A representative for Starbucks told BuzzFeed News that while the company has “deep respect” for its employees, “there is an expectation that partners create a respectful, safe and welcoming environment.”

Eli’s TikTok, posted in September, was a skit montage of him responding in joking but aggravated ways to customers who routinely correct their orders.

In one example, an employee playing a customer hands a cold drink back and says, “I wanted this hot,” and Eli responds, grabbing the drink, “I’m so sorry,” and chucks it behind him. In another example, the person playing the customer says, “Oh, I wanted extra whipped cream,” and Eli is seen filling so much whipped cream in the drink that it foams over.

Eli told BuzzFeed News he and his coworkers at the Starbucks in Mishawaka, Indiana, simply thought it was a “fun” TikTok to make.

“There were no customers there. We were closed or about to be closed, so we were just having fun,” he said. “Nothing was broken or vandalized.”

The TikTok got about 400,000 views and 60,000 likes before Eli took it down, he recalled.

Eli said that in October, about a month after he posted the TikTok, a Starbucks district manager came to speak to him about it. “I apologized [to them] and explained that this was not in any way trying to damage the company,” Eli said. “I took [the TikTok] down immediately.”

He reposted it last week and it went viral again before he deleted it a second time. He asked BuzzFeed News, which has has seen the full clip, not to post it in its entirety for fear of further repercussions.

But right after the meeting, Eli said he received a “separation letter” from Starbucks, firing him as a barista effective immediately. A letter he provided to BuzzFeed News states that he “demonstrated behavior not aligned with Starbucks Mission Values by posting content on Tik Tok that shows partners mocking customers [sic] orders, throwing drinks outside of the drive thru window and fanning out money from the cash till.”

Eli said he was really saddened. He loved working at that location and had a great rapport with his coworkers.

“I felt like I was too good at my job to be fired for something minor like this. It disappointed me a lot,” he said. “I really did like working there... If I could take it back I would. I liked my coworkers and my managers.”

Eli said he reached back out to the district manager to plead his case to be rehired, and to try to explain “that [his TikTok] wasn’t severe as they made it out to be.” Eli said the district manager “didn’t really deal with it and sent me to someone else.”

Eli then reached someone at Starbucks HQ, who said he was eligible to be rehired but not in the same district. He said he’s still unemployed and has not heard back about his status or from any Starbucks personnel since January.

A Starbucks representative confirmed Eli was fired and that he is eligible to be rehired. Eli said he wasn’t given clear directives on how to formally challenge his termination and be rehired. When asked about those steps, the Starbucks rep declined to comment and instead deferred to the company’s statement on the matter.

“We have deep respect for every partner [employee] at our company and the experience they have while employed by us,” the Starbucks rep said. “At the same time, there is an expectation that partners create a respectful, safe and welcoming environment while wearing the green apron.”

Eli said ultimately he doesn’t “hate” Starbucks and still would like to be reemployed. He believes he’s being singled out for making a joke on TikTok — jokes about working at Starbucks that he said are fairly common on the app — and was reprimanded too harshly.

“People were sending me TikToks of other people [making Starbucks jokes], which made me upset because such harsh actions were taken against me,” he said. “I don’t hate Starbucks and I really liked working there. I was just really upset by the way they treated me in the separation process — I didn’t know it was coming and I didn’t expect that to happen.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.

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