Firm Prevails in Barista GoFundMe Campaign Suit

A Coffee Barista

In the summer of 2020, Amber Gilles was denied service by a Starbucks barista after Ms. Gilles refused to wear a mask while inside the store despite California’s statewide mask mandate. After Ms. Gilles blasted the barista in a viral public Facebook post, Matthew Cowan, the co-founder of Mercy Agency, LLC, a digital marketing and brand strategy agency, created a GoFundMe campaign to raise virtual “tips” for the publicly shamed barista. Mr. Cowan’s philanthropic efforts sparked an outcry of support for the barista and the GoFundMe campaign raised over $100,000, receiving donations from individuals across the globe. The surprising success of the GoFundMe campaign received considerable national media attention, including by the L.A. Times, the New York Post, and CBS News

In February 2021, Ms. Gilles filed a lawsuit against Mr. Cowan and his company (which had no connection to the GoFundMe campaign) for “violations of her right to publicity,” “misappropriation of her name and likeness,” and “false light invasion of privacy.” Mr. Cowan retained the Larson LLP team of partners Stephen G. Larson and Jonathan E. Phillips and associate Jennifer C. Cooper to defend him against Ms. Gilles’s baseless and otherwise false allegations.

In May 2021, Larson LLP filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the plaintiff’s complaint in its entirety and requested that the court issue an order imposing sanctions against both the plaintiff and her counsel for their bad faith conduct in filing such a frivolous lawsuit. In a hearing before San Diego County Superior Court Judge Keri Katz on Aug. 13, the anti-SLAPP motion was granted in its entirety and the case was dismissed.

“We are pleased with today’s result which confirms that the lawsuit against Mr. Cowan and his company was frivolous, meritless, and frankly, egregious. We are proud to have upstanding citizens like Mr. Cowan who exercise their constitutional right of free speech for just and worthy causes.” 

Stephen Larson


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