Duke University VP Reportedly Gets Two Baristas Fired for Playing Rap Music Then Tries to Avoid Responsibility
Two employees of a Duke University cafe are out of a job this week after the vice president of student affairs reportedly had them fired over a rap song he found offensive.
The incident unfolded at the school’s Joe Van Gough coffee shop last Friday when student affairs VP Larry Moneta came in during the afternoon rush for his usual hot tea and vegan muffin, Indy Week reported. Baristas at the cafe have a habit of playing music from their phones over the speakers; usually playlists curated by streaming service Spotify. That day, “Get Paid” by rapper Young Dolph happened to be playing when Moneta walked in.
The song’s titular refrain features the n-word and is replete with f-bombs, which didn’t leave Moneta very pleased. He took his complaints to employee Britni Brown, who was manning the register that day, and told her the song was “inappropriate for a working environment that serves children among others.”
“The words, ‘I’ll eff you upside down,’ are inappropriate,” Moneta said, according to Brown.
Brown, who is African-American, said she apologized and immediately shut off the music. She said she offered the Duke exec a vegan muffin on the house but he refused, ordering her to ring him up for it. Brown offered once more, apologizing yet again for the offensive music, but Moneta declined and went on about his day.
Kevin Simmons, another barista who was busy making drinks at the time, said he quickly noticed something was wrong when he saw Brown rush to quiet the music and repeatedly apologize to a customer who seemed upset with her.
“Harassing is definitely the word I would use,” Simmons told Indy Week. “He was verbally harassing her.”
He was too far to hear what was going on, however.
Roughly 10 minutes after Moneta left the shop, Brown said she received a call from Robbie Roberts, the owner of Joe Van Gough. Coffey Roberts, the manager of dining services who overseas the campus cafe, allegedly called Robbie looking for answers about what occurred with Moneta. Brown said she explained what happened, and took full responsibility for the incident, as she was the one in charge of the music that day.
By Monday, Brown and Simmons were called to a meeting and asked to resign. Amanda Wiley from Joe Van Gogh’s human resources informed the pair that they could no longer work for the company. Their options? Either resign willingly and receive severance or be terminated.
“We had gotten a call from Robert Coffey of Duke saying that the VP of the university had come into the shop and that there was vulgar music playing,” Wiley said, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by Indy Week. “…Joe Van Gough is contracted by Duke University, so we essentially work for them. And they can shut us down at any point.”
“Duke University has instructed us to terminate the employees that were working that day,” she continued.
Both Brown and Simmons were shocked by the news. Brown, in particular, said she felt it was unfair for Simmons to be fired, and believes the company did so to avoid appearing discriminatory.
In the recording, Wiley insisted the pair’s firings came as a directive from the university. However, a statement from Moneta claimed it was solely Joe Van Gough’s decision to terminate Brown and Simmons.
“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,” wrote Moneta, who has championed free speech in the past, once tweeting, “…Freedom of expression protects the oppressed far more than the oppressors.”
“How [the coffee chain] responded to the employees’ behavior was solely at their discretion,” he added.
— Tasfia Nayem (@tnclimate) May 9, 2018
Critics have responded to the controversy with outrage, telling Moneta to lighten up and demanding that the two baristas to get their jobs back.
this is upsetting. everyone should be able to listen to dolph. https://t.co/CGpSU8ZFcD
— E. Ryan Ellis (@eryanellis) May 8, 2018
free those Duke baristas goddamn https://t.co/quosldvzkg
— RD Smith (@NotExactlyDee) May 8, 2018
what will the reactionaries claiming that academia is a fortress of "political correctness" and multiculturalism have to say now?
"Duke University Executive Reportedly Caused Baristas to Be Fired for Playing Rap Music"https://t.co/CIs48nLBOZ
— Flavia Dzodan (@redlightvoices) May 9, 2018
Duke administrator snitches on baristas for playing rap music at THEIR PLACE OF WORK. Pressures coffee chain to fire employees and then denies it. Loser. https://t.co/jz0bSo4zZV
— Golden Corrales (@ProducerDanny) May 9, 2018
So Duke and the head of student affairs had 2 baristas fired yesterday over cuss words on a song played at the restaurant. Let’s be clear, they were fired because of this mans music preference. The way Duke renders employees disposable never ceases to amaze me, WOW https://t.co/Qmf4GdNTD2
— Give us a signal Mama (@miss_mumbz) May 8, 2018
Duke University has yet to respond to the backlash.