Words by Robinson Rosas
I WAS FIRED FROM my job as a barista last week (in May), but it’s not just that simple. I wasn’t fired for being a lazy or unreliable employee. My firing was an example of power abuse by a late middle-aged man that is all too common around the whole country.
East Bay Coffee Company (EBCC), a small locally owned café in the heart of Pinole, California, has been open for about four to five years and created quite a name for itself as part of the community. EBCC hosted many community events, such as open mics, chess clubs, ukulele nights, “coffee with a cop” – a chance to open dialogue between police and the community.
EBCC also claims to have a Christian foundation and has held worship nights on Sundays. With all the events held by this café, sometimes you begin to believe they are actually trying to positively influence the community, and begin to forget that they are still a business, with the main objective to make money.
From the outside this may be the case, but when you’re an employee there, it’s hard to forget the beloved monetary chase. Especially when you see time and time again, the owner choose to keep customers over the safety of employees. In my case specifically, I have the good fortune to not be the direct victim of harassment, but I was the only one who decided to speak up about it.
A barista, a 20-year-old woman, who prefers not to be named, is the main victim here. See there is this regular, a man who looks to be in his 70’s. (We get a lot of elderly customers there, as the senior center is very near by.)
This one man specifically had a thing for this 20-year-old barista, and would always comment on her physical appearance when he came by. He never bought anything expensive, just a small $1.75 coffee, and he wouldn’t even come by every day, just a few times a week.
He would say things like “I like your glasses” or “your very cute” or “you look good today”.
Sometimes the comments would be accompanied by a touch on the arm or hand. This old man even went so far as to come behind the bar, and tickle her stomach and ribs. The barista was made very extremely uncomfortable by all of this, but unsure how to respond. Finally a co-worker convinced her to bring this to the attention of the owner. When the owner was informed, he responded by advising that she simply “hide in the kitchen” when he come in and let someone else take his order. This elderly man continues to frequent this café and is served by the staff.
I had only been working there about a month when I heard what happened. Told to me by the barista who is the victim of this elderly creeper. It was immediately clear to me that someone like that shouldn’t be allowed into the café at all. After all, at the previous coffee shop I worked at, we kicked people out all the time. That company very much stressed the idea of hospitality to guest, and did very intense training and drilled into us that we have to show the guest a wonderful experience in the café. That being said, they still understood that employee safety is a necessity and a human right. If any customer even dared touch us, we could ban them from ever coming back, and we didn’t even have to consult a manager or supervisor about it. It was something that no one thought twice about, and that makes sense to me. Employees are humans too and deserve decency and to feel safe in their own work place, and that’s something that was appreciated by employees and customers. Losing a few disrespectful or predatory customers meant keeping good employees, and gaining respect from the other 99% of customers.
That’s how my last job looked at it, and for me, I think that anyone is worthy of feeling safe at work. Sadly all too often, a women’s sexual safety is jeopardized for the sake of money, or the sake of not making men feel uncomfortable by having to acknowledge or deal with the situation, and in many cases, the sake of not making a man come to realize that he displays some of the same behaviors of the harasser, meaning that he may too be considered a sexual harasser.
I also know that all too often a woman is unwilling to come forward and bring to light any harassment she received, out of fear of it being a waste of time because no one will believe, or help her, or out of fear that she may be putting herself in greater danger by speaking up.
I am aware of all of this, and by birth lottery, I am a man and do not have to face these same problems. That being said I realize there is a certain amount of power I hold that women don’t, and that power can be used against other men, on behalf of women. I realized I can and should be helping my co-workers to feel just as safe as I do at work. After all, that’s what I would do if it were my mother, or my younger sister, or my fiancé.
The barista victim in this story ended up getting fired, in my opinion, through no fault of her own. Her boyfriend also worked at the same café with us, made an obvious mistake and was fired. She was fired along with him, although she hadn’t made any apparent mistakes. Even though she had been there for 9 months and her boyfriend for 2 months, the owner viewed her as just part of him and fired her too. This was about two weeks before I was fired.
I had already decided I was not going to serve this elderly man, sexual predator, but I hadn’t yet had him come in while I was working.
Now that the victim had been fired, my co-workers and I were worried that the man would find a new victim among the staff to begin to harass. Finally, the moment I had been waiting for, this man comes in to order while I’m on the register. I knew it was him because he had been pointed out to me before, and he had a very strange and particular order that I had never heard before, a small cup of coffee but half water.
He attempted to order with me, and in that moment, I knew I could potentially save the rest of the women working there from one less predator to worry about. I knew I didn’t have to be afraid of him, I didn’t care if he was going to get mad and yell at me. Being yelled at doesn’t scare me, and I doubted that he would go as far as to hit me, even if he did, he’s an elderly man, and I’m a 21 year old healthy man, and I’m capable of handling myself. I had nothing to fear of this man, and I realized this is also something that many women have to worry about when confronting their harasser, especially if that harasser is younger and more able-bodied than an elderly 70-year-old man.
It only makes sense to me then, that I as a man, step up to him where my co-workers were unable to. I told this man that I would have to decline and slide his money back to him. He chose to go a different route in his reaction than I anticipated, but one that is also very common among cowards of his kind. He began to act confused, and asked what I was declining. I said I was declining his transaction and I wasn’t going to serve him. He looked even more confused and asked why, I told him I knew about him. He asked me what that meant and then assure me that he’s a friend of the owners and used names, Bill and Lisa, a married couple.
He was trying to use a power move on me, as if I have to serve him anyways because he is friends with the owners and therefore in a higher position than a regular customer. I wasn’t buying it, and I told him I knew he had been harassing one of our employees and again that I wouldn’t be serving him. He began insisting that he had no idea what I was talking about, and had never bothered anyone who works there.
About this time is when one of my co-workers stepped in, a man, and took his order anyways. I was angry my co-worker stepped in and did that, and asked him why. My co-worker said that since there was no official word from the boss that we are not to serve him, then we have to serve him like any other customer. I still couldn’t believe he did that, because to me it was so obvious that there shouldn’t even be any official word from the boss needed.
Obviously a predator shouldn’t be served, and I realized my co-worker was letting his status as a man, and allegiance to this company (that has no allegiance to him) get in the way of right and wrong, and human decency. The owner was alerted of what happened and come down to speak to me.
All of my co-workers and I were certain that I wouldn’t be in any real trouble since I was just trying to do what was right, at most we thought it would just be a communication problem. My boss (who is the owner, Bill) pulled me outside to talk. He me asked what happened, and what I thought the history between the customer and the victim was. I told him what I knew then he said he wanted to tell me his side so I knew “the full story”.
He began by saying that I was “out of fucking line” by refusing a customer service, and that I have no right to decide who not to serve. He told me that he had already handled the situation, so I didn’t need to worry about it. He told me he had told my coworker she could hide in the kitchen in the back so she didn’t have to worry about him, and that he spoke to the elderly man and that it was just a miscommunication. He told me that the man is just a harmless old man and didn’t mean any harm.
As he was talking I started to truly grasp the meaning of “mansplaining”. Bill then told me that my co-worker probably brought it on herself by inviting the man to touch her by being overly friendly. Overly friendly, the same concept that Bill encourages us do in our customer service, I couldn’t believe the victim blaming I was hearing.
I then kind of laughed at how ridiculous Bill sounded, and asked if he was saying that he thinks my co-worker was actually flirting with a 70-year-old man? He then shrugged, said I don’t know, and brought in the fact that she has been fired already, so I shouldn’t be concerned about someone who doesn’t even work there anymore.
Bill then asked me if now that I know the “full story” if I would serve that man were he to come in again. Without hesitation I responded, “No” to which Bill responded, “You’re out of here” he told me to get my stuff and leave and I said okay and started walking back inside to grab my stuff and clock out.
Bill then started yelling that he couldn’t believe what I was doing and why would I let this ruin my job. He was doing this in front of one of my co-workers, and even though I had just been fired, I thought it wouldn’t look good to get into a yelling match with him. I responded in a calm tone that I have my morals, to which he responded by yelling “I have my morals too, and a business to run!” I then calmly responded that I wanted to keep things professional. He responded by yelling again “No your not, nothing about what you just did was professional!”
I once again calmly said that any other professional establishment, including my last job, would throw out a guy like that without hesitation, and that at my last job I rejected customers all the time and was backed up by my managers. He responded that he couldn’t believe that and would want to speak to one of my supervisors and ask them that. I said it didn’t matter now and walked inside to grab my stuff. He followed me inside and repeatedly said that they would mail me my last check and tips, and that I don’t need to come in to pick them up. He then patted me on the back just a little too hard while I walked out the door, but I decided to let that go.
I was fired for standing up for one of my co-workers against sexual harassment. I was fired for refusing to serve a man who physically and verbally sexually harassed one of my co-workers. I decided to take a stand against this kind of behavior, and set an example. I may have lost my job, but I have let my co-workers know that they don’t have to stand for this behavior either.
At the end of the day, a business can’t run without employees, and this was just a minimum wage job that required no prior experience, not even a high school diploma (even though I have both) and this job can easily be replaced by an equal or better job for any employee who leaves that job. Bill needs us more than we need him, and he doesn’t realize it yet, but if more employees take a stand against this then he will. This goes for businesses and employees everywhere across the nation. I’m calling on men everywhere; you can and should take a stand against this kind of behavior. Especially as a man, turn away customers that are sexual predators, stand firm on your beliefs, and as a consumer, don’t patronize businesses that protect or support predators. Be a man that is part of the solution, not part of the problem. If you are the type of man that considers himself “Macho” ask yourself, what’s more cowardly than being too afraid to speak up against injustice such as this? Stand up for those that can’t, condemn predators and set an example for a fair society. That should be what being a man is about.