Starbucks Corp's generous policy of offering up unisex restrooms and free wireless Internet for public use may have helped drive even more foot traffic into the already ubiquitous coffee chain, but its open door approach has landed the Seattle-based company in hot water.
A man from Norfolk, Va., has filed a civil complaint at the Washington, D.C., Superior Court after he allegedly found a hidden camera in the restroom of a Starbucks in the nation's capital, The Washington City Paper reported.
William Yockey, 28, was sightseeing in Washington with his wife and 5-year-old daughter when the family stopped at a Starbucks located at 325 7th Street, N.W., just a few blocks away from the Capitol Building, according to his attorney, Hubert Schlosberg. Yockey escorted his daughter into the unisex bathroom, where the little girl spotted a camera that was wedged into the U-pipe of the bathroom sink. The camera lens was pointing toward the toilet.
The girl notified her father, who showed the camera to the store manager and alerted the police. The camera was dusted for fingerprints, and the police report noted that the camera was switched on and recording when the Yockeys found it.
Yockey is seeking $1 million in damages for the incident. The court denied a motion from Starbucks to dismiss Yockey’s complaint, according to court records.
Schlosberg says the restroom his client visited was “filthy,” with a wet seat and paper towels all over the floor, and that the incident was “clearly a breach of privacy.”
“A bathroom which is so busy with customers, they should get in there to clean it up,” he said. “If they clean it up like they say they do, this wouldn’t have happened.”
A woman who answered the phone at Yockey’s residence said that he didn’t wish to comment on the case, and that the family was “trying to move past this.”
Starbucks spokesman Alan Hilowitz said that while the company can’t comment on the fact that it tried to get Yockey’s case dismissed since litigation is still pending, the chain monitors bathrooms and looks for safety concerns as a regular part of store operations.
“It’s not something we take lightly,” he said. “We do take our obligation to provide a safe environment for our customers and employees very seriously.”
(Note: This quote has been updated after a clarification from Starbucks.)
Oddly, this isn’t the only incident in which cameras have been found in Starbucks bathrooms — similar surreptitious cameras have been discovered in store locations in Hartford, Conn.; Glendora, Calif.; and Brandon, Fla., according to news reports.