SAN DEIGO — A California business owner has been sued for defamation for starting a fundraising page to benefit a Starbucks barista, berated publicly by a mask-less customer for enforcing COVID-19 restrictions.
According to KGTV, the saga began in June when Amber Gilles of Clairemont visited a San Diego Starbucks, where barista Lenin Gutierrez asked her to wear a mask. Instead, Gilles attempted to publicly shame Gutierrez by posting his photo on Facebook with the caption, “Meet lenen from Starbucks who refused to serve me cause I’m not wearing a mask. Next time I will wait for cops and bring a medical exemption.”
Matt Cowan of Orange County saw the post and launched a GoFundMe page, anchored by a screenshot of Gilles’ now viral Facebook post, to throw Gutierrez a little extra tip money. The page has since raised more than $100,000.
The defamation complaint, filed last week by Gilles, claims the use of her Facebook post violated her rights and constitutes a misappropriation of her name and image, KNSD reported.
Gilles’ attorney Michael Harrington told multiple TV stations that his client received hate mail, death threats and even lost out on job opportunities due to the incident.
“There is an invasion of privacy aspect here as well, and it’s defamatory, and money was raised by (Cowan),” Harrington told KGTV.
Cowan contends he bears zero responsibility for “any actions that other people take,” however.
“I did not direct anybody to reach out to her company or her,” Cowan told KNSD, noting Gilles’ complaint also names his company as a defendant.
Meanwhile, Cowan told KGTV that Gilles baffled him by naming his company in her suit.
“At no point or time did I use any of my company resources or connections through my organization to garner any support for this campaign,” Cowan told the TV station. He also noted that the only images of Gilles he used on the GoFundMe page were screenshots of the public post that she personally created, which anyone could access.
“Everything was done in a philanthropic sense, and I used publicly available information to populate my GoFundMe,” Cowan said.
Meanwhile, Gutierrez told KSND that he has received every penny from the fundraiser but has not yet spent a dime raised by the campaign because he intends to use the money to pursue his dream of studying dance.
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