It all stemmed from a customer complaint about "inappropriate" music being played inside the store.
That complaint came from Larry Moneta, vice president of student affairs at Duke University.
Moneta said that when he walked into the Joe Van Gogh coffee shop last Friday, he was "was shocked to hear" lyrics that he felt were "inappropriate."
The lyrics were from the song "Get Paid" by Young Dolph, who took to Twitter on Wednesday about the incident:
Whoever that VP is, he don’t give a dam about nobody but his self... I guess he was trying to teach the students how to be selfish I guess......... smh🤦🏽♂️ 👎🏾— its DOLPHHHHHH! (@YoungDolph) May 9, 2018
Two employees were fired a short time after the incident. Moneta told ABC11 that, while the employees made a poor decision, he did not demand their firing.
In a statement he said:
"Last week, I went into Joe Van Gogh as I often do to purchase some items. I was shocked to hear lyrics playing quite loudly I found quite inappropriate for a working environment that serves children among others. I expressed my objections to the staff with whom I've always had a cordial relationship. I insisted on paying for my purchase and left the store. I then contacted the director of Duke Dining to express my concerns and that was the end of my involvement.To those who feel that I've flipped on my positions on free expression, I say this. The artist who wrote, recorded and performed the music is absolutely entitled to do so, however offensive I might find the lyrics. The employees who chose to play the song in a business establishment on the Duke campus made a poor decision which was conveyed to the Joe Van Gogh management. How Joe Van Gogh responded to this matter was solely at their discretion."
Robbie Roberts, the owner of Joe Van Gogh, issued the following statement:
"Joe Van Gogh apologizes to our employees, customers and community for how we handled a situation involving our Duke University store. As you have read*, it is true that Joe Van Gogh is a contractor to Duke. We attempted to understand Duke's position in this case, but we should have taken a different approach in making personnel decisions. As the owner of the business, I take full responsibility for Joe Van Gogh's actions. I apologize to all of the people directly involved and those who have been touched or offended, of which there are many. We are taking steps to remedy this matter, but all company personnel issues are private and will remain private. Again, my truly sincere apologies."
Valerie Johnson of Copeley, Johnson and Groninger in Durham told ABC11 she believes the fired workers may have a legal case.
"When there is interference with someone's employment in a way that can't be justified, and there is some action that results in damages to the employee, there can be legal liability," Johnson wrote in an email. "That is the case even if the person is an employee at will and doesn't have a written contract of employment.
"The question to be determined is, was the action done with the intent to injure these employees?" Johnson added. "If the reports of the actions taken by VP Moneta are true, my opinion would be that the baristas do have a case."