On Monday, two employees of Duke University’s Joe Van Gogh location had their contracts terminated after vice president for student affairs, Larry Moneta and executive director of dining services Robert Coffey demanded that the local coffee chain fire them.
The reason behind their decision? Moneta heard a rap song playing at the store and found it offensive.
On Friday, the VP of Student Affairs came in during an afternoon rush. The baristas had a habit of playing music from Spotify over the speakers, usually on playlists curated by the service. When Moneta walked in, “Get Paid” by Young Dolph was playing. The song’s titular refrain included the n-word, as Young Dolph raps, “Get paid, young nigga.”
Britni Brown, who was manning the register, was in charge of the playlist that day.
When he approached the counter, Moneta, a white man, told Brown, an African-American woman, that the song was inappropriate.
“The words, ‘I’ll eff you upside down,’ are inappropriate,” Moneta said, according to Brown.
“Yes, of course,” Brown said. She says she shut the song off immediately and offered him his order free of charge.
“No,” Brown recalls Moneta saying. “Ring me up for it.”
Brown says she offered again, apologizing for the offense the song had caused.
“You need me to ring me up for it right now,” Moneta insisted.
While Brown was working the register, Kevin Simmons, the other barista on duty, noticed a man who was upset with Brown.
“Harassing is definitely the word I would use,” Simmons says. “He was verbally harassing her.”
Simmons did not hear what Moneta or Brown said specifically, but he noticed Brown hastily turning off the music and apologizing profusely. Shortly afterward, Moneta left the shop.
Less than ten minutes later, Brown says she received a call from Robbie Roberts, the owner of Joe Van Gogh. He said that Coffey, the director of dining services, which oversees this Joe Van Gogh location, had just called him. Roberts asked her about the incident. According to Brown, she explained what happened, took full responsibility, and apologized again.
On Monday morning, Brown and Simmons were called into Joe Van Gogh’s Hillsborough office and asked to resign.
At that meeting, Amanda Wiley from Joe Van Gogh’s human resources department told them that they could no longer work at Joe Van Gogh. “Duke University has instructed us to terminate the employees that were working that day,” she said.
Current managers and coworkers say that neither Brown nor Simmons had any record of workplace misconduct.
“I’m just kind of shocked,” Simmons told Wiley. “I didn’t have any control over the music. I’m having trouble understanding how I’m responsible for this.”
“For [Simmons, a white man] to be fired because of this, it is not fair,” Brown, who had worked at Joe Van Gogh for nearly a year and a half, told Wiley. “I feel like you guys were trying to cover it up as to make it not look discriminatory for firing a person of color.”
Brown says she was not aware of any policies regarding the playing of music in the shop. Other employees of Joe Van Gogh say they are not aware of a music policy either.
Moneta, who has previously opposed efforts to restrict hate speech on college campuses also argued against the vandalism of Confederate monuments said “To those who feel that I’ve flipped on my positions on free expression, I say this. The artist who wrote, recorded and performed the music is absolutely entitled to do so, however offensive I might find the lyrics.”