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Starbucks barista nets $100,000 in tips after mask encounter with San Diego "Karen"

Mask messaging causing confusion
Mask protocols causing confusion and confrontations nationwide 02:47

A Starbucks worker who won plaudits for standing up to a customer who refused to wear a face mask is meeting with a financial adviser this week. The reason: To decide what to do with the $100,000 contributed by sympathetic donors in an online fundraising campaign.

The barista, Lenin Gutierrez, unexpectedly came into the money following an encounter last week with Amber Lynn Gilles, a self-described activist and yoga instructor in San Diego. Gilles took to Facebook to express her indignation over Guiterrez's suggestion that she follow the company's and county's public health mandate by wearing a mask. She posted a photo of Gutierrez, writing that he "refused to serve me cause I'm not wearing a mask. Next time I will wait for cops and bring a medical exemption."

The outburst prompted an immediate backlash on social media. including critics who labeled Gilles a "Karen," now used as cultural shorthand for white women acting entitled in public

Gilles did not respond to a requests for comment, but made clear in multiple posts that she rejects medical data and science showing masks curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

Her widely shared post promoted many expressions of support for Gutierrez, including from those who wrote they'd like to give him a tip, prompting a sympathetic stranger, Matt Cowan, to start a virtual tip jar for the worker on GoFundMe. The donation page entitled "Tips for Lenin Standing Up To A San Diego Karen" had raised over $104,000 as of Friday, with more than 7,800 donations pouring in, typically $10 or under. 

"Everybody is rallying around somebody for doing what they're supposed to do and trying to protect everyone else. It just goes to show you there are a lot of good people out there and that outweighs the bad," Cowan told a San Diego news outlet.

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In an update on his effort on Sunday, Cowan wrote that he had arranged for Gutierrez to meet with a financial adviser this week to "help him plan how to properly invest and use the large sum of money." Cowan added: "Lenin has said that he plans to use some of the money to pursue his dreams of becoming a dancer. He also wants to donate to some organizations in the San Diego community."

Gutierrez, an aspiring dancer, posted a Facebook video expressing gratitude for the donations. He also relayed his surprise that an unpleasant incident that lasted just a few minutes could result in something "so big." 

He described being assigned the front register and asking Gilles if she had a face mask, leading her to curse and storm out, only to return moments later to snap a photo of Gutierrez, ask his name and threaten to phone Starbucks corporate headquarters before leaving again. 

I’ve received numerous messages asking for my side of the story. Since this seems to be the most popular thread I decided to post my personal experience here. Thank you all for the love and support.

Posted by Lenin Gutierrez on Wednesday, June 24, 2020

"We respectfully request customers follow social distancing and safety protocols recommended by public health officials, including wearing a facial covering when visiting our stores," a Starbucks spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch in an email.

As of Wednesday, more than 6,000 Californians had died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirusaccording to John Hopkins University. San Diego has required all residents to wear masks in public since May 1. With infections surging in the state, California Governor Gavin Newsom on June 18 mandated that people in the state wear masks in public when unable to stay six feet away from others. 

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the GoFundMe page had received more than 7.6 million donations. The story has been updated.

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