Judge Says Customers Can Sue Starbucks for ‘Underfilling’ Its Lattes

False advertising?
False advertising? Photo: Starbucks

A judge has weighed in on one of the two big lawsuits Starbucks is facing over its drink sizes, and it’s not good news for the coffee giant: U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson writes that he’s letting the plaintiffs move forward with their class-action suit because he “finds it probable that a significant portion of the latte-consuming public could believe that a ‘Grande’ contains 16 ounces of fluid” (what Starbucks says is the volume of its medium size). Starbucks had asked for the suit to be dismissed, but the chain couldn’t demonstrate the alleged fraud was “implausible as a matter of law,” to quote Henderson’s legalese. He did water the complaint down a bit — it’s now five claims instead of eight, and he threw out the request for injunctive relief — but, otherwise, miffed California latte drinkers Siera Strumlauf and Benjamin Robles will have their day in court.

In the suit, they accuse Starbucks of conspiring to underfill drinks by at least 25 percent. Consistency is of course a hallmark of a good coffee shop, and that’s where they think they caught Starbucks red-handed, arguing that all baristas are instructed to measure and aerate milk in such a way that intentionally underfills drinks. Part of their claim is that 12-, 16-, and 20-ounce lattes hold exactly those amounts only if they’re filled to the brim, but baristas are told to leave a quarter-inch space at the top.

What’s bad for Starbucks is that this is a test any Starbucks-goer can conduct themselves — just pop the lid and look at the drink level. In fact, after the lawsuit came out, the Today show did exactly that and bought grande lattes from half a dozen New York Starbucks locations. The show said none of them contained 16 ounces, and one actually measured 12 ounces, effectively a size “tall.”

Starbucks called Today’s test “unscientific,” and a rep reiterated on Monday that they’re ready to take on this meritless lawsuit in court. They also insist baristas will “gladly remake” beverages anytime the customer isn’t satisfied — assuming, of course, the customer wants to be the type who complains about a missing quarter inch of milk.


Lawsuit Approved for ‘Underfilled’ Starbucks Lattes