On 12th March 2024, three people filed a lawsuit against the giant coffee chain Starbucks alleging that its extra charges for non-dairy alternatives are discriminatory. According to the lawsuit, these surcharges, which do not happen in other countries, are designed only to profit from customers with allergies or lactose intolerance.

The lawsuit, filed in the District Court in Eastern California by Dawn Miller, Maria Bollinger, and  Shunda Smith, is asking for $5 million in damages. The plaintiffs have lactose intolerance and milk allergies and since 2018 have been charged between 50 cents and 80 cents extra when paying for products with alternative milks such as soy milk or oat milk at Starbucks retail coffee shops in California.

The lawsuit alleges, “Starbucks charges customers with lactose intolerance and milk allergies an excessively high surcharge to substitute non-dairy alternatives in its drinks…In this way, defendant’s conduct violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, California Unruh Civil Rights Act, and constitutes common law Unjust Enrichment.”

In 2022, Starbucks pledged to stop charging extra for dairy-free milk in each of its 1,020 UK Stores. This decision came after a clever campaign highlighting the racial injustice of such a surcharge joining the traditional animal or environmental-based campaigns that have been pressuring the company for many years. In this campaign, Switch4Good claimed Starbucks was ditching the upcharge due to the prevalence of lactose intolerance among Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities. 

However, US Starbucks continued to charge more for vegan milks, and the animal rights group PETA began a campaign there to change this. On 25th September 2023, PETA submitted a shareholder resolution to Starbucks calling on the board to commission a report to examine whether the company is losing sales and damaging its image by charging a higher price for plant-based milks in its US stores.

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.