Underfilling lattes is officially a crime, according to U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson. Henderson is allowing two plaintiffs to move forward with their lawsuit against Starbucks for selling full-priced lattes that are 25% smaller than advertised. The California-based plaintiffs are the first to take the coffee conglomerate on over its alleged short pours, a point of ongoing legal debate. The decision comes on the heels of a lawsuit filed in May that claims that Starbucks used ice to fill its drinks up instead of liquid.
The lawsuit over the underfilled lattes claims the coffee chain has been skimping on milk in its lattes since 2009 in a concerted effort to save money. Plaintiffs Siera Strumlauf and Benjamin Robles allege that Starbucks baristas are instructed to leave a quarter of an inch of free space in drinks, even going as far as etching inaccurate "fill to" lines in the pitchers used to heat the milk. According to Strumlauf and Robles, these small transgressions indicate a calculated effort on Starbucks' part to underserve its customers, a misdirection that warrants false advertising and fraud charges.
"A latte is a coffee drink made with espresso and steamed milk. Traditionally, a latte is created by mixing steamed milk and espresso, which is then topped with a thin layer of milk foam," reads the lawsuit, as reported by The Guardian. "By underfilling its lattes, thereby shortchanging its customers, Starbucks has saved countless millions of dollars in the costs of goods sold and was unjustly enriched by taking payment for more products than it delivers."
Strumlauf and Robles went on to argue that the measurements advertised on Starbucks menu boards—12 ounces for a tall, 16 ounces for a grande, and 20 ounces for a venti—further deceive patrons, since the lattes do not actually contain that much fluid. Henderson ultimately agreed with the plaintiffs' claims.
"This is not a case where the alleged deception is simply implausible as a matter of law," wrote Henderson. "The court finds it probable that a significant portion of the latte-consuming public could believe that a 'grande' contains 16 ounces of fluid."
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