Java man! Top free speech lawyer defends Gorilla Coffee workers

Java the hurt! Gorilla Coffee sues the New York Times
Photo by Paul Martinka

A celebrity First Amendment lawyer is scoffing at a defamation lawsuit brought on by the owners of Gorilla Coffee, who accused their former employees and the New York Times of defamation stemming from April’s mass staff exodus over the owners’ alleged hostile management style.

Legendary litigator Martin Garbus will defend a handful of ex-Gorilla employees and Times reporter Oliver Strand, whom shop co-owners Darleen Scherer and Carol McLaughlin are suing. The former workers are being sued for defaming the owners in a resignation letter posted on the Fifth Avenue coffee shop’s door — and the Times reporter is being sued for reprinting the letter.

The Brooklyn Paper, which also reprinted the letter in full, is not being sued.

But Garbus — who has represented the Old Gray Lady and taken on stars as big as hip-hopper Eminem — claims that the roasted roasters don’t even have a case.

Gorilla Coffee co-owner Darleen Scherer, seen in happier times, said the New York Times ruined her life. But now the Times is fighting back.

“Retaliatory, anti-speech lawsuits like the one from Gorilla Coffee have the potential to both harm innocent people who choose to speak out and chill the speech of others who would like to make their voices heard,” Garbus said. “This lawsuit is without merit and will be defended vigorously until victory.”

Scherer and McLaughlin’s October court filing didn’t clearly address what was legally defamatory about the workers’ letter, which claimed that the co-owners created “a perpetually malicious, hostile, and demeaning work environment” that was “unhealthy” and “unworkable.” But the Gorilla owners’ suit griped that they “sustained a loss of reputation and a decline in business” due to the Times article and the two weeks that they were out of business due to a lack of employees.

It remains unclear how much business, if any, has been lost to the media coverage of the mass walkout. The Gorilla Coffee lawyer, Stephen Finkelstein, did not get back to us by our caffeinated online deadline.

Colleen Ford was one of the new servers at Gorilla Coffee in Park Slope, which closed abruptly after the entire staff walked out in April.
Photo by Bess Adler