Some class-action lawsuits sound absurd enough to simply write off—like the one that two people from California filed in March, accusing Starbucks of deliberately underfilling lattes. But last Friday, Judge Thelton Henderson of United States District Court in San Francisco found that this case against Starbucks for fraud and false advertising could move forward and the case of the underfilled latte would have its day in court. In this lawsuit, the plaintiffs claim that Starbucks lattes are 25 percent underfilled, meaning the number of fluid ounces advertised allegedly does not match the amount of liquid in the cup, and according to the original complaint, this is a systemic problem across Starbucks because the standardized baristas use to make lattes “result in beverages that are plainly underfilled.”
To come to this conclusion, the plaintiffs’ lawyers did some legwork, ordering lattes from “different stores, in different states, in different sizes, and in different flavors,” and finding that “no Starbucks Latte was actually filled to the fluid ounces promised on Starbucks’ menu (e.g., Tall should be ‘12 fl. oz.,’ Grande should be ‘16 fl. oz.,’ and Venti should be ‘20 fl. oz.’).”
This isn’t the only time Starbucks has been accused of shortchanging customers. Shortly after this lawsuit was filed, another class-action lawsuit was brought up by a woman in Illinois, claimed that Starbucks misleads customers about the size of iced drinks because they primarily filled the drinks with ice rather than liquid. According to her claim, which is reportedly worth $5 million, a 24-ounce iced beverage—like a shaken iced tea—only contains 14 ounces of liquid.
In an e-mail statement, Starbucks spokesperson Reggie Borges called this lawsuit, along with other recently-filed lawsuits, “without merit,” adding that, “If a customer is not satisfied with their beverage preparation, we will gladly remake it."
Class-action lawsuits against big food and coffee companies aren’t anything new–think of the now infamous hot coffee lawsuit against McDonald’s–and customers seemed to get particularly annoyed when they think they’re not getting their money’s worth. Peet’s Coffee was also accused of shortchanging customers who ordered press pot, or French press, coffee; the lawsuit against Peet’s claimed that customers were getting 25 percent less coffee than advertised. Dunkin’ Donuts also got some heat earlier this year when they allegedly overcharged customers for tax exempt items in New York and New Jersey.
The real moral of the story here is that, in a world where people are willing to pay $16 for a cup of coffee, customers still want to know if they're being overcharged.
This post has been updated to include a statement from Starbucks.