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Fort Belvoir Starbucks Charges Nine Employees Thousands for Drinks

Employees say coffee shop management secretly videotaped, and then charged them for consumed food and beverages.

Starbucks manager Stacy McDonald worked at the Fort Belvoir location for more than five years. As of Wednesday, she was fired after the company accused her of stealing $3.75 worth of merchandise while on the job.

Eight months pregnant, she has lost her health insurance and more than 200 hours of sick time that she was planning to use for maternity leave.

According to McDonald and some of her co-workers, the Army and Air Force Exchange Services (AAFES), which operates the 12th Street Starbucks on base, secretly videotaped its employees and accused them of stealing beverages and pastries on the job—and is docking some employees thousands of dollars in pay for doing so.

AAFES Loss Prevention interviewed a total of nine Starbucks employees who were told they owed money to AAFES, ranging from $3.75 to $13,951, McDonald said.

Employee Discovers Hidden Camera

A current employee, who asked his name be withheld due to the ongoing investigation, was cleaning the store on Dec. 22 and discovered a wire leading to a hidden camera. The employee contacted a supervisor and told her what he had found. He said he was instructed to leave the camera in place.

The camera remained in the store until Dec. 27. After that, employees who spoke to Patch aren't sure what happened to it, but a store manager reportedly contacted AAFES Security Loss Prevention to inform them that the camera was gone.

When asked why the camera was placed in Starbucks, AAFES spokesman Judd Anstey said in an email to Patch, "While the Exchange does not discuss the specifics of active investigations or security procedures, mobile video surveillance is used when potential misconduct or fraud is identified."

On Dec. 30, barista Kiara McKnight of Woodbridge arrived for her shift and was summoned to a meeting with Karen Bye, AAFES Loss Prevention manager, and Leo Varghese, AAFES headquarters investigator.

When a confused McKnight arrived at the loss prevention office, Varghese told her she was there for an internal investigation, McKnight said.

“[Varghese] printed a promissory note saying I owed $663 worth of milk and lemonade for adding it to coffee and tea,” said McKnight. “I drove back to work and thought about it. I thought it wasn’t right, and I revoked my promissory note the next day I came into work.”

McKnight requested a copy of her time and attendance record, which showed she worked 40 weeks. Varghese and Bye had charged McKnight based on 52 weeks of employment, McKnight said.

When McKnight returned to work after recanting on her promissory note, she was summoned to HR and was placed on suspension, she said. All nine employees were placed on a 30-day suspension, according to McDonald.

“I’ve been depressed because they’re labeling me as a thief, when I’m not,” said McKnight.

Two Seperate Beverage Policies

Starbucks corporate and AAFES each have separate, differing beverage policies. Both policies are concurrently in effect, according to Janice Blackwell of the National Association of Government Employees, a union that represents the Starbucks employees.

AAFES's policy states that while employees are on shift, they are authorized to have unlimited brewed coffee, tea, and fountain soda.

However, Starbucks' policy allows free beverages during work hours only before or after a shift or during a break and they must be entered into the computer for inventory tracking. The expectation is every barista is to sample coffee, espresso, milk and pastries to ensure quality and knowledge to provide effective information to customers.

Blackwell said AAFES proposed changes to its policy in November 2011. In order to negotiate the proposed changes, Blackwell requested information from AAFES because she was unclear on the specifics of those changes.

"AAFES never provided such [information on the specific proposed changes to the policy], therefore, no change was to be made until such time as the Union had the opportunity to bargain," Blackwell said in an email to Patch.

"The policies were very general and all employees had an understanding of what they were able to use," Blackwell continued. "It's a very unfortunate situation, and the other part of that situation is that it's a very ambiguous meal policy."

Interviews, Suspensions and Appeals

When AAFES Loss Prevention placed the concealed security camera in the store, they should have informed the union of their plans as per protocol, Blackwell said.

"It's an unfair labor practice," she said. "We just feel management didn't do a good job in this investigation."

McDonald was also brought in for a loss prevention interview. Varghese told her that employees were being brought in for theft and consuming products. According to McDonald, when she asked if the thefts involved employees walking out of the store with beverages, Varghese said no.

McDonald quickly asked to be excused from the interview. “The reason I left quickly was because I felt the focus of the interview was to try to incriminate me in some way,” she explained. “Once I requested that I have a lawyer, because of [Varghese’s] accusation, and when my rights were denied, I was immediately uncomfortable and felt harassed, so I left to end the interview.”

McDonald plans to appeal AAFES’ decision to fire her.

The union has responded to the proposed AAFES action, but it plans to file a grievance once the final decision has been made, Blackwell said.

Editor's Note: The AAFES Beverage Policy includes “bulk dispensed” coffee, tea, or soda at a “self service drink station," according to Judd Anstey, AAFES spokesman.

UPDATE Feb. 4, 6:25 a.m.: Stacy McDonald was fired for drinking an iced coffee and the price, $3.75 was actually miscalculated by AAFES, said McDonald in an email to Patch.

UPDATE Feb. 24, 9:58 a.m.: The National Association of Government Employees plans to file a complaint against AAFES on behalf of the Starbucks employees who were videotaped and charged for consumed food and beverages.

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Barbara Love April 25, 2012 at 05:29 AM
This situation has just happened to my son here at AFFES on Fort Campbell. They are labeling him a thief for tasting the product with a toothpick when his manager told him too. Its isn't right and he is devastated because he says he did what he was told to do. He was told to always sample your product before putting it out by the manager to make sure the food was edible . They use toothpicks to sample it! They made him fill out a promissary note, sign a confidentiality form , told him it was best he quit or be charged with thief and told the other employees if asked why he left to tell people he was stealing from the resturant. The others that were force to quit have said the same. I will continue to probe into this situation until I get some answers and will take it as far as it can go.
ven12 April 27, 2012 at 05:57 PM
On Ft. Belvoir there was an employee union that was able to help the non-management employees some. They were able to drag the process out for awhile and a few long term employees kept their jobs but were reassigned. The majority essentially got a months paid leave during they investigation and moved on to different (and to be honest, much better) jobs after quitting or being fired. You should try to see if there is a union available to help, but at the end of the day, this is what AAFES loss prevention does and your son should take it as an indication that there are much better places to work. One thing to keep in mind is that as an employee YOU CAN WALK OUT of a 5 hour interrogation at any time, while you might end up getting fired, once you are at that stage, the goal of the interrogator is to get you to sign a paper saying you owe as much as they can, and has NOTHING TO DO WITH THEFT OR DETERMINING THE TRUTH. Usually they give a 24 hour time period to reconsider and take back your statement, which I think most people do. The whole process is appears to be a way for loss prevention to pump up their "stats", so they can say they stopped $40K of theft at Starbucks last year, etc..
Jake Dryden McSweeney September 14, 2013 at 10:05 AM
CJ you are a very sad, sad man.. :/ I support the employees. My dad was in Vietnam.
CJ September 14, 2013 at 10:53 AM
I know just what type of employee you are, Jake. You do ''OK'' (not good, but OK) when it is time to take care of the customers...except for being rude to them...but the job pool is so tainted now days for employers...we have to put up with that. The ''sad'' things (plural) about an employee like you...since you brought up what is sad...it that when there are ''no'' customers...that is when an employee let's down not only his employer...but also the general public. You show your expertise at ''shamming'', and your kind is ''very'' good at it. You ignore rules about not using your phones or whatever while on the clock...yes even pulling it out of your pocket to ''check it'' for messages, etc...constitutes grounds to be fired. And ''yes''...before you ask...I'm serious. but I understand the fact you don't ''get that''. Again...''sad''...but true. Additionally, you will take excessive bathroom breaks...but not to use the bathroom. You will just hang out in the bathroom to avoid work duties. You may even catch a 5-10 minute snooze...but of course...you certainly will hide in there and sometimes , if not each time, use you phone some more. But the temptation to simply snooze for 5 or 10 minutes is equally tempting as the banned phone use. I know...you were up late...and got little sleep. That also explained why you were also late to clock in. You might even hang out with the bathroom odor to perhaps even just to squeeze in a game...but more likely some Facebook, Twiiter, Candy Crush, or Sim Center. Throughout your work shift...you will use the bathroom to do all of the above. Then, of course, you will actually have to ''also'' take bathroom breaks to actually use the bathroom. Then there is the cigarette break scams you pull. I won't list the 1000 ways that employees like you use to get a puff in. Cleaning? Please....we know you don't do that. It does not even do us any good to ''fire you''. Whoever we hire next may even be worse than you. Your generation has serious work ethics problems. Many job fields today used to be filed by youth from ''my '' generation. Fast Food. Construction. ''All'' jobs...and endless list. Now days , numerous of those jobs are ''only'' filled by minorities or even illegals. Even Ex Convicts. Your generation blames in on our government letting too many people into our Country ...or ''whatever''...but the truth is...they are actually a better employee than your kind will ever be. Your type only amounts to anything if they somehow manage to work up to a better paying job...or a family business, etc. But up to that point...at beginning wages...you have screwed around every other employee you ever worked for. I don't have the time to write more...but the faults with people like you are legendary. You deal with it by having no empathy or shame. Half of our countries problems lie with the fact our future lies in the hands of your kind. we can see how things are going. Thanks. Think how much you children will also thank you when they are of old age and hear bout how great our country used to be. Your Dad is likely a very fine man...My experience in Vietnam also help mold my fine character....just like your Dad's did...but he is not the first good Father to end up with a sorry chump like you for a kid. If you ever went into the military, no doubt you would be crying PTSD as soon as you got out. Oh boo hoo...cry me a river.

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