When Larry Moneta, Duke University’s vice president for student affairs, visited a campus coffee shop and ordered a hot tea and a vegan muffin, he didn’t expect to get served with a side of explicit rap lyrics.
Hearing some raw lines from Young Dolph’s “Get Paid” reportedly sent Moneta, a free speech advocate, into a tizzy. He complained, which led to the firing of two baristas. The story, first reported in Indy Week, has gone national.
Now, Durham lawyer Leto Copeley of Copeley Johnson & Groninger has offered to provide pro bono representation to the now-unemployed baristas, Britni Brown and Kevin Simmons. They were axed a few days after Moneta got offended at the Joe Van Gogh coffee shop.
“I’m so sorry these two had to lose their jobs over this. It’s so sad,” said Copeley, who had yet to hear back from Brown and Simmons.
The duo told Indy Week that they’d been listening to a playlist curated by the Spotify streaming music service when “Get Paid” came on. Brown, who is African American, told Indy Week that after Moneta spoke out she turned off the music, apologized and offered to give him a free muffin. But he insisted on paying.
He later emailed a statement to The News & Observer and The Duke Chronicle in which he said he was “shocked” by the lyrics in “Get Paid,” which includes the N-word, many times, along with such lines as: “I f- – – – – her so good, she got up and started cooking.”
“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,” Moneta wrote.
Moneta, who last year wrote on Twitter that “Freedom of expression protects the oppressed far more than the oppressors,” added in his statement on the coffee kerfuffle that the baristas “made a poor decision,” which he “conveyed” to Joe Van Gogh’s management.
“How they responded to the employees’ behavior was solely at their discretion,” he said.
While much of the focus has been on Moneta, Copeley was looking at Duke and Joe Van Gogh, which contracts with the university.
Duke University reps told Joe Van Gogh to fire all the employees who were working the day of the incident, but a manager at the shop said she was initially told to fire only Brown, who was manning the register and in charge of the playlist at the time, according to Indy Week.
“That is concerning from a plaintiff lawyer’s perspective,” Copeley said.
She also noted that Moneta wasn’t just an unhappy customer, he was in a position of power because he works for the baristas’ now-former employer. And if he demanded that the baristas be fired, “then you’ve inserted yourself into the employment relationship,” Copeley said.
“The question is, Did you have a legitimate motive in doing that?” she said.