Duke coffee shop employees fired after university VP complains about rap song

Duke coffee shop employees fired after university VP complains about rap song

DURHAM, NC (WNCN) - Two Duke University coffee shop employees said they lost their jobs over a rap song, and they believe the university owes them an apology.

On Friday, a high ranking Duke University official walked into a coffee shop on campus. The university said that when he heard offensive and explicit music playing over the speakers, he took his concerns to management.

Britni Brown said every Friday afternoon, there's a midday rush at the Joe Van Gogh coffee shop on Duke's campus. That's when she said one of her regular customers walked in, Vice President of Student Affairs, Larry Moneta.

"Mr. Moneta came in to the shop to get his vegan muffin like he usually does, and I had put on a playlist," Brown said. "He had come up to the front of the register and was like, 'Hey can you turn off the music? It's inappropriate, vulgar. Can you shut it off?' And I was like, 'Yeah, sure. Of course!' So I cut off the music immediately and apologized."

She admitted the song included some profanity, but said she hadn't specifically chosen it or meant to offend anyone.

Brown said she offered to give Moneta his muffin for free. She claimed he then became hostile.

"He was like you need to ring me up immediately and was like loud and harassing and the customers behind him were uncomfortable," Brown said. "He was pretty much acting crazy for no reason so I rung him up and he left."

Brown thought that was the end of it, until she got an email from human resources asking her to come in for a meeting.

"I thought it had something to do with what happened on Friday," she said. "I just didn't realize I was gonna get fired for it."

On Monday, she said she and coworker Kevin Simmons were given two choices: get fired and get nothing or resign and walk away with a two-week severance package.

During the meeting, Brown said Joe Van Gogh's management told them they were being fired because the university, which contracts the coffee shop, forced the issue.

"I've definitely been upset about it, and I've honestly cried because I'm like why I lost my job over something crazy," Brown said.

Simmons said he saw the situation go down, but he didn't say a word.

He said, "I couldn't even hear the music from my half of the store where I was working at the bar. So I didn't understand what was going on, and why the customer was being verbally aggressive. I did not involve myself in it whatsoever and just keep my nose done and kept working."

Simmons added: "I feel like in a way I was thrown under the bus just because firing a black woman for a very little petty reason. I feel like I was just thrown into it like the caveat to keep a distance from the racial allegations."

The owner of Joe Van Gogh's, Robbie Roberts, has since made a public apology. It reads in part, "We attempted to understand Duke's position in this case, but we should have taken a different approach in making personnel decisions. As the owner of the business, I take full responsibility for Joe Van Gogh's actions."

The university also sent a statement that reads in part, "We appreciate Mr. Roberts' statement…and regret the pain this incident caused to those who look to Duke to uphold the highest values of fairness and equity to all members of our community."

The coffee shop's owner also apologized to Brown and Simmons and offered to hire them both at a different location.

Moneta also sent CBS 17 a statement that reads, "It was never my intent that any of the Joe Van Gogh employees be terminated. I felt and still feel that the choice of music for the venue was inappropriate, but if my actions in any way led to their dismissal I apologize and hope that the JVG management considers ways to reinstate their employment with the company."