·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

California Women Sues Starbucks Over Nondairy Milk Substitute Surcharges

— March 20, 2024

An attorney for the three women claims that Starbucks surcharges for nondairy milk substitutes violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Three California women have filed a lawsuit against Starbucks, claiming that the company’s surcharge for nondairy milk substitutions is tantamount to discrimination.

According to CBS News, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of plaintiffs Maria Bollinger, Dawn Miller, and Shunda Smith. All three of the women are lactose intolerant, and say that Starbucks’ surcharges violate provisions of state and federal law.

“Starbucks charges customers with lactose intolerance and milk allergies an excessively high surcharge to substitute non-dairy alternatives in its drinks,” the lawsuit alleges.

The complaint notes that the “excessive” fees range between $.50 and $.80 on Starbucks products that contain nondairy and lactose-free options. These options include substitutes such as soy, almond, coconut, and oat.

Non-dairy drinks, adds CBS News, typically cost more than regular dairy. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act defines lactose intolerance as a type of disability—and broadly prohibits the levying of “excessive” surcharges for replacement products.

Photo by Engin Akyurt from Pexels

Keith Gibson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, told FOX News that Starbucks chooses to offer nondairy products but is unwilling to offer any concessions or accommodations to customers with legally-protected disabilities.

“For these people, it’s not a choice since they can’t drink regular milk,” Gibson said. “Charging a surcharge is discrimination against them.”

“It’s about the fact that these are individuals with lactose intolerance, which is recognized as a disability by the [Americans with Disabilities Act],” he said. “This lawsuit is about discrimination.”

The Los Angeles Times notes that Adam Cyr, a spokesperson for the United States Department of Justice, said that companies must make “reasonable modifications” to ordinary policies and practices to accommodate customers with disabilities.

Although Starbucks has declined media requests for comment, a company spokesperson said that the coffee chain does offer nondairy items without any surcharges.

“In U.S. Starbucks stores, at no additional cost, customers can add up to four ounces of nondairy milk to hot or iced brewed coffee or tea, cold brew and Americano beverages,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The company also says that members of its rewards program can redeem points to receive nondairy additives for free, should they wish to purchase a nondairy substitute that is not part of a product’s standard recipe.

Nevertheless, attorneys say that the surcharges are baseless and do not reflect either the costs of either training staff or purchasing substitute products.

“There is no expertise or additional work required of Starbucks employees that would substitute whole milk or fat-free milk in place of 2% regular milk, or who would make caffeine-free or sugar-free beverages, or also be able to substitute non-dairy alternatives such as soy, coconut, oat, or other lactose-free ‘milk’ in place of 2% regular milk,” the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit seeks a jury trial, restitution, and unspecified monetary damages.


Starbucks faces lawsuit for tacking on charge for nondairy milk in drinks

Starbucks sued by California residents who claim company discriminates against lactose-intolerant customers

Surcharge for alternatives to dairy milk stirs up lawsuit against Starbucks

Join the conversation!