Starbucks Sued For Fraud After Under-Filling Lattes

A class-action lawsuit filed against Starbucks by two eagle-eyed Americans alleges that the company regularly and purposefully under-fills its lattes by at least 25 percent, an intentional act of fraud.

By using less milk in its Tall, Grande, and Venti cups, the company "has saved countless millions of dollars in the cost of goods sold and was unjustly enriched by taking payment for more product than it delivers," the suit alleges.

Starbucks distributed standardized pitchers in 2009 with "fill lines" for milk, instituting a "uniform system of under-filling the lattes," according to Law360.

"For instance, in making a "grande" 16-ounce latte, baristas are required to use 12 ounces of milk, plus two 1-ounce shots of espresso. Therefore, the maximum possible fluid ounce amount of latte a customer could possibly receive is 14 ounces.

"Perhaps most significantly, the [plaintiffs, Siera Strumlauf and Benjamin Robles of California] contend that the cups Starbucks uses for its 12-, 16- and 20-ounce lattes can hold exactly those amounts if they are filled completely to the top brim. But as a rule, Starbucks employees are instructed to leave a quarter-inch of space from the top of the cup. From a logical standpoint, that means that no cup Starbucks uses could possibly contain the alleged serving size, and every drink is filled less than the amount advertised."

If the customers had known that Starbucks baristas were under-filling their drinks, neither would have spent $4 each time on 16-ounce lattes, according to court documents.

"When a standard recipe is used to create a drink that is purportedly 16 fluid ounces, the resulting beverage should in fact be 16 fluid ounces," Strumlauf and Robles wrote. "In connection with these cost-saving measures, Starbucks knew that the etched 'fill to' lines in its steaming pitchers resulted in under-filled beverages. Yet Starbucks continued to advertise its Tall beverages as '12 fl. oz.,' its Grande beverages as '16 fl. oz.' and its Venti beverages as '20 fl. oz.'"

 A representative for Starbucks dismissed the lawsuit as "without merit," and insisted that, "Due to the inherent variations with handcrafted beverages in our cafes, we inform customers of the likelihood of variations."