Coffee Lovers with Lactose Intolerance Sue The Coffee Bean for Milk Alternative Surcharge

Coffee Bean accused of unfair milk surcharge.

Coffee Lovers with Lactose Intolerance Sue The Coffee Bean for Milk Alternative Surcharge

The Coffee Bean discriminates against consumers with lactose allergies by charging them more for drinks with alternative milks, a new proposed class action lawsuit alleges.

Consumers Carolyn Chaffin, Jennie Kim, Lori Singer, Michelle Irwin, Roxanne Sims and Dawn Miller filed the proposed class action lawsuit against The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on April 17 in a California federal court. 

Each of the plaintiffs suffer from lactose intolerance and milk allergies, and it is medically necessary for them to avoid consuming drinks that contain milk, they say. Despite this, The Coffee Bean — which operates in California Nevada Arizona or Oregon — adds a surcharge to every drink order in which the consumer asks for an alternative to dairy-based milks, the plaintiffs allege.

In doing so, the coffee chain violates the Americans With Disabilities Act, and state consumer laws, they say. “Lactose intolerance is a disability.  A milk allergy is a disability. The Coffee Bean charges customers with lactose intolerance and milk allergies an excessively high surcharge to substitute non-dairy alternatives in its drinks.” 

Surcharge on medical necessity, lawsuit claims

The six coffee lovers who filed the lawsuit say they suffer adverse health effects if they ingest milk-containing products, including stomach pain, digestive tract inflammation, bloating, bowel irregularities and vomiting. 

As a result, they have no option to choose beverages that contain alternatives to regular milk.

While many coffee shops now no longer charge extra for different milk types, when the customers visited The Coffee Bean’s coffee shops and requested to substitute milk for oat milk or almond milk, they say they were charged at least an extra $0.80 surcharge for the swap.

For example, at an outlet at the Los Angeles Airport, Terminal 8, Coffee Bean charges a one dollar surcharge to customers who ask to substitute regular milk for almond or oat, the plaintiffs say. 

However, there is no material difference between the price of lactose-containing milks and the price of non-dairy alternatives that would justify levying that kind of surcharge, the lawsuit argues.

Options for diabetics, but not for lactose allergies

While The Coffee Bean offers several free options when it comes to the content of fat in the milk, or type of sugar added to beverages, it does not offer similar options for free to customers with milk allergies, the lawsuit states. But this makes no sense, the plaintiffs argue, because the retail cost of non-dairy milk is not significantly more than dairy products. 

They said, on the date the lawsuit was filed, whole milk was priced between $0.03 - 05 per fluid ounce, half & half between $0.09-19 per fluid ounce, and heavy cream between $0.17 - 32 per fluid ounce. At the same time, coconut, oat and soy milk was selling for between $0.06-07 per fluid ounce, and almond milk for between $0.04-07 per fluid ounce.  

“Accordingly, the retail price of whole milk  — which is provided for free by Defendant — is the same, if not more, than their non-dairy Alternatives,” the lawsuit states. 

Meanwhile, The Coffee Bean should be able to control the manufacturing costs for non-dairy alternatives considering it is one of the largest coffee chains in the United States, with an annual revenue in 2022 exceeding $500 million dollars, the lawsuit states.

Not the first splash of hot water

This is not the first class action lawsuit The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf has faced. In 2023 it was hit with a proposed class action alleging it falsely advertised some of its products as being sustainable and earth-friendly, when they are harmful to the environment. 

Last month, coffee giant Starbucks was slammed with a similar lawsuit alleging it charges customers with lactose intolerance and milk allergies an excessively high surcharge to substitute non-dairy alternatives in its drinks.

The plaintiffs are looking to represent anyone who suffers from lactose intolerance who bought drinks or other items from The Coffee Bean in the past four years. They’re seeking certification of the class action, damages, fees, costs and a jury trial. 

The plaintiffs and proposed class are represented by Aron Law Firm and Keith Gibson Law, P.C.

The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf alternative milk surcharge class action lawsuit is Chaffin et al., v. The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Case No 2:24-cv-03132-GW-SK in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

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