Two baristas working at a Duke University campus coffee shop called Joe Van Gogh were fired after Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta heard them listening to hip-hop and complained. The story: https://t.co/Y8LwEwHHO5 pic.twitter.com/gqZQvtHk5m— Law & Crime (@lawcrimenews) May 9, 2018
On Friday, vice president Larry Moneta stopped into the campus Joe Van Gogh coffee shop. While he was there, the song “Get Paid” by rapper Young Dolph was being played over the shop’s speakers.
As Moneta waited for his order of tea and a muffin, he noticed the vulgar lyrics in the song. Employees Britni Brown and Kevin Simmons were working that day and said they were playing music from playlists curated by the streaming service Spotify.
Brown, who had chosen the playlist for the shift, was confronted by Moneta, who told her that the song was inappropriate. She said that he specifically quoted, “I’ll eff you upside down” as the line he had an issue with; however, Slate noted that there is no such line in the song, but the actual lyrics are still profane, nonetheless.
Brown quickly turned off the song, apologized to the administrator, and offered to give him his muffin for free. Moneta refused her generous offer and opted to pay for his pastry. Not long after the encounter, Brown received a call from the owner of the coffee chain who questioned her about the incident and informed her he had been notified by the director of the university’s dining services.
By Monday, both Brown and Simmons were called to the chain’s office and terminated. Apparently, they were told that “Duke University has instructed us to terminate the employees that were working that day.”
Despite neither employee having a documented history of misconduct, this one incident jeopardized their livelihoods.
Brown argued that firing Simmons, who is white, was unfair considering he wasn’t even responsible for the music, but she suggested that the company likely fired both of them to avoid accusations of racism by only firing Brown, who is a black woman.
Additionally, Brown maintained that she was never told of any policies that restricted what music could be played in the shop.
“When I got hired, the only thing that was expected for the music was for it to be cool music,” she said. “There was no training to make sure that your music was appropriate.”
Although Moneta has been blamed for the employees getting fired, he issued a statement to clarify what role he played in the ordeal. He said he was “shocked” by the lyrics, which were “quite inappropriate for a working environment that serves children among others.” But, he maintained he did not demand that the workers be terminated. He claimed he simply notified the director of dining services about the encounter.
“I expressed my objections to the staff with whom I’ve always had a cordial relationship,” Moneta wrote. “The employees who chose to play the song in a business establishment on the Duke campus made a poor decision which was conveyed to the JVG management. How they responded to the employees’ behavior was solely at their discretion.”
While it’s true that it’s up to the company to make the calls about how to handle issues with its employees, Moneta can’t deny that his complaint was the catalyst for this unfortunate outcome.
He definitely blew things out of proportion by reporting the employees to their bosses after he had already launched his complaint to them directly and they were apologetic and turned the music off immediately. If they had been rebellious or objected to his complaint, then a call to the higher-ups would have been warranted, but that wasn’t the case.
Brown and Simmons may have made a poor choice in allowing an obscene song to play out loud in a public establishment; however, it’s possible that in the midst of them working, they didn’t even notice what the song was saying.
In a random playlist, you never know what song is going to play. Furthermore, they were moving around serving customers, so it’s likely they weren’t paying very close attention to the song's words.
As for the company, if Brown’s argument is true that there was no pre-established policy regarding music or guidelines in place for what was considered appropriate, then it was totally unfair to fire the employees.
If the company wanted to appease the university by dishing out some form of punishment, docking their pay or cutting their hours for a certain period of time would have been more reasonable, especially given that this was each of their first offense.
No doubt, the situation was mishandled, which has prompted some people to question the motives behind resorting to termination. Moneta has been accused of racism in the past for defending the presence of Confederate statues on campus, and now, some people suspect that Brown's race may have played a role in how Moneta responded to the matter.
Just in case you thought I was lying. pic.twitter.com/PgdZBHoDy2— TheAngrySociologist (@SankofaBrown) May 9, 2018
Larry Moneta said he'd always defend freedom of speech but he got a black woman fired for playing a rap song in a coffee shop. So the N word is okay when it's written on campus dorm doors and spoken to students directly, but not when it's music making u uncomfortable? https://t.co/qhtwKrdERa— T. (@Taylioness) May 8, 2018
I worked under Larry Moneta three years ago, during the Duke student anti-racist sit ins (prompted by a diff VP at Duke hitting a black woman with his car and calling her the n word) anddddd given his reaction to those students? This does not surprise me in the least. ?? https://t.co/OoEXr33DIk— Dr. R (@EmicAcademic) May 9, 2018
The Duke VP, Larry Moneta (@Dukestuaff), previously said he didn't believe in protections against hate speech because he believed in free speech. Apparently that doesn't apply to rap music, as he had Britni Brown, a Black woman, fired from her campus job for playing a rap song. https://t.co/PQrFTB0lBP— Marcus H. Johnson (@marcushjohnson) May 9, 2018
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