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Two Baristas at Duke Were Reportedly Fired After the VP of Student Affairs Complained About a Song

Two Baristas at Duke Were Reportedly Fired After the VP of Student Affairs Complained About a Song

On May 7, two coffee shop employees say that they were fired over the Spotify playlist they had playing during their work shift. The issue began two days prior when Britni Brown and Kevin Simmons — both employees at the Joe Van Gogh coffee shop location on the Duke University campus — were working. Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs at Duke entered Joe Van Gogh, and, according to the Indy Week, ordered a hot tea and vegan muffin. While Moneta was in the coffee shop the song “Get Paid” by rapper Young Dolph reportedly played in the background.

The chorus of the song goes: “Get paid…get paid/ Whatever you do, just make sure you get paid.” But the rapper uses the N word and other profanity throughout the track.

Indy Week reported that, according to Britni, Moneta said: “The words, ‘I’ll eff you upside down,’ are inappropriate.” (We should note that the song doesn’t actually say that, according to the lyrics on Genius, but does include the F word multiple times.) Britni told Indy Week that she quickly turned off the song and apologized several times; she says that she even told Moneta that he didn’t have to pay for his order. She says that Moneta refused her offer, paid his bill, and walked out. Britni’s co-worker, Kevin, said that he was busy making drinks but said that he observed that Moneta was upset with Britni.

About 10 minutes after Moneta left, Robbie Roberts, the owner of Joe Van Gogh, reportedly called and spoke to Britni. She explained to him what happened and apologized again. On Monday, Britni and Kevin were fired by Amanda Wiley — a human resources rep for Joe Van Gogh — and given a severance package.

“We had gotten a call from Robert Coffey [director of dining services] of Duke saying that the VP of the university had come into the shop and that there was vulgar music playing,” Wiley said, in a recording obtained by Indy Week. “Joe Van Gogh is contracted by Duke University, so we essentially work for them. And they can shut us down at any point.” She added: “Duke University has instructed us to terminate the employees that were working that day.”

Moneta, who has previously taken a stand on Twitter regarding freedom of speech when it comes to hate speech, has a different story, however. In an emailed statement to The News & Observer and The Duke Chronicle, Moneta stated that he was “shocked” to hear lyrics that he said were “quite inappropriate for a working environment that serves children among others.” He continued, “I expressed my objections to the staff with whom I’ve always had a cordial relationship. I insisted on paying for my purchase and left the store. I then contacted the director of Duke Dining to express my concerns and that was the end of my involvement. 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.”

Despite Britni saying that she took responsibility for playing the song, and saying that Kevin had nothing to do with it, Kevin was also fired. Britni told Indy Week that she feels they fired Kevin (a white man) to make it look as if firing her wasn’t a discriminatory issue.

“For [Kevin] to be fired because of this, it is not fair,” Britni said in the recorded interview with the HR rep. “I feel like you guys were trying to cover it up as to make it not look discriminatory for firing a person of color.”

Britni also said to Indy Week that she was never instructed on what was appropriate or inappropriate music to play at the coffee shop during her year and a half of employment at Joe Van Gogh.

The owner of Joe Van Gogh told Indy Week that they take full responsibility for firing Britni and Kevin, and on May 9, posted an apology on both the Joe Van Gogh site and Twitter. “We attempted to understand Duke’s position in this case, but we should have taken a different approach in making personnel decisions,” Roberts wrote. “As the owner of the business, I take full responsibility for Joe Van Gogh’s actions. I apologize to all of the people directly involved and those who have been touched or offended, of which there are many. We are taking steps to remedy this matter, but all company personnel issues are private and will remain private.”

In a “Duke Memes for Gothicc Teens” Facebook group, people expressed their support for Britni through memes and comments after she disclosed that she was indeed fired by Joe Van Gogh.

Rachel Katz wrote: “I went to JvG nearly everyday bc I love seeing you. You’re such a cool person and so wonderful to talk to. When I didn’t see you this morning I was sad, but it turned out to be worse than I imagined. I’m so sorry that this happened, and I’m definitely going to protest/email/shout until somebody takes responsibility. Much love.”

Students are reportedly also protesting the baristas’ firing by playing “Get Paid” outside Moneta’s office.

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Teen Vogue has reached out to Britni Brown, Larry Moneta, Duke University, Joe Van Gogh, and Spotify, and will update this story as it progresses.

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