BREAKING: Starbucks sues workers union after pro-Hamas posts lead to public boycott

"Given the Accused Marks’ similarities to the Starbucks Marks, the Accused Marks are likely to convey to consumers a false affiliation, endorsement, or sponsorship with Starbucks."


Starbucks filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa on Tuesday against a workers union using the name Starbucks Workers United alleging trademark infringement.

The lawsuit was launched after Starbucks Workers United groups made posts on social media expressing support for the attack of Palestinian terror group Hamas against Israel, which has led to the deaths of over 1,400 Israelis and nearly 200 people being taken hostage.

The Starbucks Workers United union, the lawsuit states, "is an unincorporated association which acts as a collective of Starbucks employees from approximately 325 company-operated stores throughout the United States," or around 3 percent of US company-operated stores.

The lawsuit notes two examples of infringement the group has participated in, with one logo mimicking the classic Starbucks Siren Logo, and another one mimicking the 40th anniversary version of the logo rolled out in 2011.

The lawsuit notes that these infringing logos are used across the union’s social media accounts, in posts, as well as on forms of merchandise like t-shirts, hats, and pins.

"Given the Accused Marks’ similarities to the Starbucks Marks, the Accused Marks are likely to convey to consumers a false affiliation, endorsement, or sponsorship with Starbucks. Indeed, the similarity between the marks has already caused substantial, demonstrated, and harmful confusion," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states that on October 7, the defendants and affiliated people began making posts against Israel, which had just been invaded by Hamas, with Israelis being killed and taken hostage.

"For example, SBWU posted a Tweet, using the Starbucks Marks and Starbucks Works, stating 'Solidarity with Palestine' with a picture of the bulldozer tearing down a fence on the Gaza strip during the attack on Israel on October 7," the lawsuit notes.

"Particularly at that time, when the world had just seen images of assaults on families and upon a peaceful music festival and heard the reports of deaths from those attacks, people reacted with outrage at a perceived endorsement of violence."

Iowa City Starbucks Workers United "posted and reposted on social media messages advocating for the continuation of violence against Israel and cessation of US aid to Israel."

The lawsuit noted that the defendants’ usage of the Starbucks logo to post about the topic, "create a strong likelihood that Defendants’ activities will be attributed to Starbucks."

The lawsuit stated that the messages "do not, and have never, reflected Starbucks official position."

Starbucks as a result of these posts said it has received hundreds of complaints from customers in the aftermath "singling out Starbucks - not defendants - for supporting Hamas."

The lawsuit noted a pair of calls that came in on October 11 from a customer to the Seattle Starbucks Reserve Roastery who threatened to "shut down" the roastery and all stores, adding that he hoped that the employee who had answered the phone found himself "in a war dying on the frontlines."

One Starbucks store in Rhode Island was vandalized on October 13, 2023, with a swastika painted on the front door and Stars of David painted on an exterior window and a door.

Complaints Starbucks has received in the wake of the posts include "I will never visit Starbucks again. You are supporting Hamas terrorists," "You stand with Hamas, I buy my coffee elsewhere," and "Shame on you supporting Hamas, coffee is about coffee, never going to be your customer again and I have been loyal for years."

The lawsuit states that Starbucks customer service employees have experienced "trauma" from the wave of complaints, "which have included personal accusations of supporting genocide and exposure to graphic and violent photos."

The complaints have extended to elected officials, with Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott urging the public to "Boycott Starbucks." The calls to boycott were echoed by the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce.

"Defendants’ co-opting of the Starbucks Marks continues to cause harm to Starbucks, as evinced by continued threats against Starbucks despite Starbucks attempts to clarify its position and disassociate itself from Defendants."

In an October 11 post, Starbucks issued a statement saying "we unequivocally condemn these acts of terrorism, hate and violence, and disagree with the statements and views expressed by Workers United and its members. Workers United’s words and actions belong to them, and them alone."

"There is no legal entity known as 'Starbucks Workers United.' Rather, it is a subset of partners that are represented by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) with more than two million members working across a range of industries in the US and Canada," Starbucks stated.

Starbucks Chief Partner Officer Sara Kelly released a letter on October 17 stating "It is in the best interest and safety of our partners and customers for Workers United to disengage from the dialogue and from misrepresenting Starbucks. Workers United's actions risk putting partners from all stores, including both non-union and unionized stores, in harm’s way."

She wrote that on Friday, Starbucks contacted Workers United to demand that they cease using the logo and issue a correction.

"This morning, unfortunately, they rejected that request. As a result, Starbucks will file litigation against the union in federal court, and we intend to pursue all legal options in defense of our partners and our company," she wrote on Tuesday.

The lawsuit demands a jury trial in the case, permanent injunctive relief against the defendants and associated persons for using imitations of the Starbucks logo, for the defendants to deliver goods that use these imitation logos to the Court for destruction, and the payment of damages, attorneys fees, and profits attributed to the imitation logo.

Starbucks lawsuit by Hannah Nightingale on Scribd

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