Lactose intolerance consumers file $5 mln lawsuit against Starbucks

Three Starbucks patrons have initiated a $5 million class-action lawsuit against the coffee giant, contending that imposing an additional charge on customers opting for non-dairy milk constitutes discriminatory behavior towards individuals with lactose intolerance.

The trio, all residing in California, specifically argue that they face an extra fee ranging from $0.50 to $0.80 per beverage due to their lactose intolerance when purchasing drinks at Starbucks. Filed in early March in a federal court in Fresno, California, the complaint alleges that these supplementary charges violate both the Americans with Disabilities Act and a California civil rights law.

The lawsuit asserts that Starbucks has established a separate, pricier menu targeted at patrons unable to consume dairy, arguing that the elevated cost of soy, oat, coconut, or almond “milk” does not correlate with significantly higher retail prices for these milk alternatives. Attorney Keith Gibson, representing the plaintiffs, emphasizes that lactose intolerance qualifies as a protected disability under the ADA and state discrimination laws, impacting millions of consumers adversely due to Starbucks’ alleged unlawful discriminatory practices.

In response, Starbucks spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation but defended the company’s current pricing strategy for non-dairy milk. The statement explains that in US Starbucks outlets, customers can incorporate up to four ounces of non-dairy milk into various beverages at no extra charge. Additionally, customers have the option to customize their beverages with non-dairy milk from the menu for an additional fee, similar to other customization options such as extra espresso shots or syrup.

The legal team behind this lawsuit had previously filed similar class-action suits against Dunkin’ in December 2023 and Starbucks in Florida in 2022. However, the case against Starbucks in Florida was voluntarily dismissed in early March. The complaint highlights that the California customers suing Starbucks experience adverse physical reactions such as stomach pain, inflammation, bloating, irregular bowel movements, and vomiting when consuming dairy milk. For them, utilizing non-dairy alternatives is not a preference but a necessity.

The plaintiffs argue that Starbucks provides low-fat, non-fat, and heavy cream dairy milk free of charge, and accommodates modifications such as reducing sugar or offering sugar-free beverages without any additional cost. Arlene Kanter, an expert in disability law, previously noted in response to the Dunkin’ lawsuit that if a person qualifies as having a disability and requires an accommodation, such as non-dairy milk, they cannot be subject to extra charges.

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