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On The Current State of the Suit Against Four Barrel

On Friday, eight women filed a lawsuit alleging that Jeremy Tooker, founder and co-owner of Four Barrel Coffee in San Francisco, Calif., sexually harassed and assaulted them. They also allege that co-owners Jodi Geren and Tal Mor were complicit in the actions by doing so continued to foster a culture of harassment and abuse at the company. Jeremy subjected his employees to abuse on a number of fronts, both directly through his actions and indirectly by creating a culture that condone his behavior and continuously sexualized its employees and ignored their complaints. Many of the women who came forward were told not to, “talk shit about the company,” or to “start drama,” by owners and management of the company, in particular to Jodi and Tal.

But they did. They talked shit. They started drama. Although Jodi and Tal have yet to accept any responsibility for Jeremy’s actions and for ignoring the complaints of their employees, their shit talking and drama starting lit a fire that brought this issue to the attention of mainstream media, and the aftermath has been both angering and inspiring.

By filing suit against Jeremy and Four Barrel, they courageously shone a light on the abuse they’ve suffered and have lived with for years. And since then, with their actions, they have forced Jeremy to completely divest from Four Barrel, forced dozens of wholesale accounts to reconsider and drop the company as their coffee provider, and have killed the dangerously sexist and harmful brand that is Four Barrel—in a statement made Sunday, Jodi Geren and Tal Mor announced that they would turn over Jeremy’s stake in the company to the employees and that they would work to turn over their stakes in the company, being called The Tide as of right now, to their employees.

Ok, so there’s a lot to unpack here. Is this solution perfect? No. Is this the end result of this journey? Absolutely not. But let’s take a moment to really think about what’s happened in the last few days—the bravery of the eight women who spoke out caused so much positive change to happen. In just five days. In a culture where abusers wield all the power and victims are often silenced, these women courageously took their own power back and ‘talked shit’ and ‘started drama.’ Jeremy is gone. Four Barrel is dead. Wholesale accounts are looking critically at the relationships they establish with their partners. Coffee companies are developing new protocols for harassment. We can only hope that the example these women set forward with their bravery and candor is that companies take assault seriously, harassers are scared shitless and get called out, and  folks that have or are currently being victimized have the tools to speak out and start some drama.

There’s so much out there, on Twitter and other social media platforms, about the case and the subsequent fall out—what’s right, what’s wrong, and what we should do. First and foremost, thank these women. Remember that this is their fight, and we must do our best to support an outcome that feels right for them. You don’t (and probably shouldn’t) need to thank them directly, but we promise they see your support and appreciate it.

Secondly, continue to put pressure on Jodi Geren and Tal Mor. They have yet to admit they were complicit in all of this. They have admitted they were made aware of Tooker’s behavior two months ago and chose not to act, but they have yet to accept any culpability for the culture that they have created and fostered at Four Barrel that allowed this behavior to continue. Every ‘apology’ they’ve issued has been weak, scapegoating responsibility and blaming Jeremy for every wrong thing that’s ever happened at Four Barrel. But let’s go back to the lawsuit: when employees told Jodi about Jeremy’s behavior, they were told not to ‘talk shit.’ When they complained about the overtly sexualized merchandise and messaging on their menu, they were told not to ‘start drama.’ This was not the actions of one person. This was systemic abuse enabled by a culture that ignored baristas and protected harassers.

Third, continue to ask questions. An employee-owned coffee company sounds great, right? But what does that actually mean? No timeline has been set, so when will Jodi and Tal divest? Will they gain from divesting-—is that a nicer way of saying they will be bought out? How do the three owners stepping away from Four Barrel actually change the culture that’s been set in place there? Are there others in the company responsible for protecting the culture of harassment? And what do the baristas feel that are still at Four Barrel right now? There’s still a lot we don’t know that we deserve the answers to. There’s still a lot left to come, so continue to stay engaged and be present, and listen to the needs of the community. If you have questions, email us or DM us on Instagram and we’ll do our best to answer them.

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, look inward. Ending abuse starts one by one. This is not the first time harassment has happened, nor will it be the last. Everyone, in every position in the coffee supply chain, can do something positive to end abuse. If you’re a barista, read up on bystander training and study strategies to intervene if an employee is being harassed. If you own a business, critically examine your harassment policies and have a frank discussion with your staff—I promise you that the folks who say that harassment isn’t a problem at their store are likely the ones who are willfully ignorant. And if you’re not sure what to do or who to reach out to, find the folks at #coffeetoo, an organization dedicated to providing tools to end harassment and abuse in the U.S. coffee industry. You can check out the resource page here, and you can support #coffeetoo by donating to the GoFundMe page here. All donations will be used to build a resource library and fund events to end abuse, and if you donate $10 or more, you’ll get a set of three pins that capture the spirit of this movement—one that says ‘talk shit,’ one with ‘start drama,’ and another with ‘#coffeetoo.’

And continue to talk shit and start drama. Who knows—you might run an abuser out of town.

Ashley Rodriguez