The Slatest

Duke University Baristas Fired After Vice President Complained About Rap Song

A coffee shop employee prepares coffee.
A barista, not from the Duke campus coffee shop, pours a coffee drink. Steffi Loos/Getty Images

Two baristas at a Duke University coffee shop were fired Monday after the vice president for student affairs complained about a rap song playing over the coffee shop’s speakers.

The incident, which occurred on a campus Joe Van Gogh coffee shop on Friday, centered around the song “Get Paid” by Young Dolph.

According to Indy Week, which reported the story, Larry Moneta, the vice president, heard the song as he was waiting to order a tea and muffin during the afternoon rush. The two baristas, Britni Brown and Kevin Simmons, said they played music from playlists created by Spotify.

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According to Brown, who was in charge of the playlist that day, Moneta told her that the song was inappropriate when he reached the counter. She said he specifically had a problem with “‘I’ll eff you upside down,’” a phrase that is not in the song but that is also not very different from some of the other lyrics.

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Brown then said she stopped the song, offered him his muffin for free, and apologized. Moneta refused the offer and paid for his muffin. Brown said she soon afterward received a call from the owner of the North Carolina coffee chain, who asked about the incident and said the director of the university’s dining services had called him.

Then, on Monday, Brown and Simmons were called to the chain’s office. According to Indy Week, which reports to have audio recording from the meeting, an employee for the coffee chain told Brown and Simmons that “Duke University has instructed us to terminate the employees that were working that day.”

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The employee also said that both baristas were good employees, and Indy Week confirmed they had no record of misconduct. Brown complained that it was unfair to fire Simmons, who had no control over the music, and suggested the company had fired Simmons, a white man, to avoid the bad optics of firing a black woman. Brown also protested that she had not been told of any policies related to the music.

“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.”

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In a statement sent on Tuesday to the News & Observer, based in Raleigh, and the Duke Chronicle, Moneta said that he was “shocked” by lyrics “quite inappropriate for a working environment that serves children among others.” However, he did not demand the employees be fired, he said, but instead simply contacted the director of the dining services to tell them about the incident.

“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.”

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