A Starbucks barista in Maryland is suspended pending further investigation after a Black woman said her name was written as "Monkey" on her drink.
On Nov. 19, Monique Pugh visited a Starbucks location inside an Annapolis mall when the incident occured, according to Today.com. Pugh ordered a venti caramel frappuccino and told the employee at the register her name, "Monique."
Pugh told Today.com that while she waited for her drink, she observed that everyone ahead of her was called by name when their drink was ready.
"I can see from a distance, a barista picks up [my] drink and she looks at it weird, says 'venti caramel frap' and backed away," says Pugh, who picked up the drink and saw that the cup had "Monkey" written on it.
"My heart just drops," she says. "It was one of those in-the-moment things where your heart just drops and you're just like, 'What?'"
At first, Pugh spoke to a nearby barista only to ask him to fix her drink but she claims his response was "very combative and argumentative." She asked the employee, "Why am I the only Black person in the store and 'monkey' is written on my cup?"
But Pugh says the barista only shrugged, told her it was a mistake and refunded her for the drink.
After leaving Starbucks, Pugh called customer service and was then contacted by the general manager of the particular store where the incident occurred. Later, the owner of the Annapolis location contacted Pugh to apologize and told her that the team had concluded the incident "wasn't intentional," according to Pugh.
A spokesperson at Starbucks confirmed that the employee involved in the incident has been suspended pending further investigation and told PEOPLE that they reached out to Pugh to apologize and invited her to hear about actions the company and the Annapolis store will take, including ensuring that the word "Monkey" cannot be printed on future labels.
The spokesperson clarified that the Starbucks where the incident occurred is a licensed store (as are locations in airports and college campuses) and the workers there are employed by Impeccable Brands. Impeccable Brands is launching a third-party investigation into the situation.
Starbucks spokesperson shared the email Impeccable Brands employee Amit Sehgal sent to Pugh.
"First and foremost, please allow me to apologize once again for the experience that occurred Saturday," Sehgal wrote. "While we have investigated the incident and believe that our employee mistakenly labeling your cup in this way, regardless, I understand the hurt and frustration this has caused you."
Sehgal also wrote about the steps the location and brand are taking. "We will provide additional training for all employees at this location, something we have already begun looking into. And finally, I want to do my best to be sure that this experience does not happen again to any of our customers in the future. I have worked with Starbucks to make sure that the word printed on your drink label cannot ever be printed on any label in my store moving forward."