Masks required: Woman, who shamed a Starbucks barista over mask request, sues creator of a GoFundMe campaign

The creator of a viral GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $100,000 is being sued by a California woman who shamed a barista online for asking her to wear a mask inside a Starbucks store in San Diego.

Matt Cowan created the “Tips for Lenin” GoFundMe last summer after Amber Gilles, a yoga instructor, accused a Starbucks barista of refusing her service for not wearing a mask.

Gilles’ June 22 Facebook rant about Lenin Gutierrez prompted an outpouring of money and support for the barista.

“Meet lenen from Starbucks who refused to serve me cause I’m not wearing a mask. Next time I will wait for cops and bring a medical exemption,” Giles wrote in the now-removed post.

Last July, Gilles asked Cowan for half of the $105,445 raised. Last week she filed a lawsuit against Cowan and his company, Mercy Media, for “violation of her right to publicity,” “misappropriation of her name and likeness,” and “false light invasion of privacy.” 

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Mask compliance has sparked debates throughout the coronavirus pandemic after Americans received mixed messages from authorities early on over whether they should wear face coverings in public places. 

Local governments can decide what safety measures to impose on businesses, but individual businesses can institute further restrictions. 

San Diego started requiring masks or face coverings May 1 and the state of California added the requirement June 18. Starbucks started requiring masks nationwide July 15, weeks after the incident.

Cowan told USA TODAY he wasn’t surprised by the lawsuit. He says Gilles threatened to sue him last summer if he didn’t give her half of what was raised on GoFundMe. 

“I was surprised that she found a lawyer to take the case,” he said.

Gilles’ attorney, Michael Harrington, told USA TODAY his client is seeking an unspecified monetary award.

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