The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

On Facebook, she denounced a Starbucks worker who asked her to wear a mask. It backfired: He received over $32,000 in tips.

A Starbucks store inside the South Coast Plaza shopping mall in Costa Mesa, Calif., on June 15. (Bing Guan/Bloomberg)

Amber Lynn Gilles walked into a Starbucks in San Diego without a mask and was declined service, according to a Facebook post on her page. She took a photograph of the barista who didn’t serve her, posted it and wrote:

“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.”

Her post backfired.

It quickly collected more than 100,000 reactions and comments, as well as nearly 50,000 shares. Many Facebook users defended the barista, Lenin Gutierrez, and some called Gilles a “Karen” — a name coined to describe an entitled white woman making inappropriate remarks.

One Facebook user wrote: “There’s no reason to publicly shame a kid who’s trying to work his shift like any other day.” Another said: “I don’t blame the kid behind the counter. They need to follow the rules that they are given.”

Comments continued to pour in, with some people writing that they wanted to give Gutierrez a tip.

That’s when Matt Cowan, a man who doesn’t know Gutierrez but stumbled upon the post, decided to start a virtual tip jar for the barista on GoFundMe.

Cowan called the donation page “Tips for Lenin Standing Up To A San Diego Karen.” In the description, he wrote, “Raising money for Lenin for his honorable effort standing his ground when faced with a Karen in the wild.”

When states first began lifting coronavirus lockdown measures in the summer, tensions around face masks had been mounting since the CDC first recommended them. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

Cowan said he never expected to reach more than $1,000. But in just three days, the total amount is more than $32,000, and it continues to increase by the hour.

“Everybody is rallying around somebody for doing what they’re supposed to do and trying to protect everyone else,” Cowan said in an interview with KGTV. “It just goes to show you there are a lot of good people out there and that outweighs the bad.”

Gutierrez said he’s blown away by the support. In a Facebook video, he thanked everyone who donated, and he also shared his side of the story.

He said that after Gilles walked in the store without a mask, he asked her if she had one and tried to point out the paper citing Starbucks’ regulations. She started “cursing up a storm,” then took a photograph of him and threatened to contact the corporate office, he said.

San Diego County issued a notice as of May 1, requiring residents to wear face coverings in most public settings, including when shopping in a store or picking up food at a restaurant. However, the notice does state that those with a health condition that prevents them from wearing a mask are exempt.

While Gilles implied that she is medically exempt from wearing a mask, she didn’t elaborate as to why. She did not respond to a request for comment from The Post.

In a video posted on the website of San Diego TV station NBC 7, Gilles said she has received death threats over her Facebook post.

“I was denied and discriminated against. I didn’t harass anyone, I called him out,” she said.

In a comment on the initial Facebook post, Gilles wrote: “Masks are stupid and so are the people wearing them.” She has also shared previous posts, expressing her refusal to wear masks, and her belief that those who wear them are “not thinking clearly.”

All donations to the virtual tip jar page are considered “personal gifts” to Gutierrez, according to the fundraiser. It also states that Gutierrez’s manager asked him to decline to comment on the situation going forward. Gutierrez did not reply to a request for comment from The Post.

On Facebook, Gutierrez said he already has big plans for his unexpected tips.

Gutierrez, who is an aspiring dancer, said he plans to use the money to fuel his passion, and to teach others the art of dance.

“With this donation that everyone provided me on GoFundMe, I can make these dreams a reality,” he said. “From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much.”

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