Roasters Coffee employees allegedly fired for shutting stand down to clean black mold

RICHLAND, Wash. — Two employees at Roasters Coffee in Richland are speaking out after they were terminated in July for shutting down the stand to try and clean “thick, black mold.”

Tyson Nation, a barista for the local coffee shop, said he’s worked in the coffee business for over two years and at the Richland location on Keene Rd. for about six months.

“I’ve never seen mold just pop up like that anywhere,” Nation said.

In a video taken by Nation on July 11, black mold can be seen inside the Roasters Coffee stand growing on the ceiling, walls, and mini-fridge.

“I go to the walk-in fridge to stock up because we’re running low on product and I look up and see mold spores all over the roof,” Nation said. “I start to evaluate and look around just to assess the situation and you can see spores popping up everywhere.”

The video was posted by Nation’s mother on social media, amassing hundreds of views and comments.

“My dad is certified and trained in mold restoration so he’s the first person I called. I got in contact with him and he said it wasn’t safe.” Nation said.

That’s when he brought the issue up to Casey Boothe, the shift lead working at the time.

“I was without my managers and the one in charge of the shift that day,” Boothe said. “We look around and we can see it starting to spore on the surfaces around the walk-in fridge where there’s the open product.”

Boothe said that he became concerned immediately, noting customer safety hazards.

RELATED: Oregon-based coffee company buys Roasters Coffee

“I immediately called my manager and asked what to do. She told me to wait until her bosses could tell her what they wanted us to do,” Boothe said. “In that time we stopped serving anything that was coming out of the fridges because we just had to assume that it was contaminated at that point and not safe to serve.”

Boothe said his manager called back to let him know that upper management wanted to keep the shop open.

“I chose to shut down the shop. I told my manager that I’d take full responsibility and that we can’t be serving this product to customers because it’s a risk,” Boothe said. “So we shut down and about 15 to 20 minutes later, my assistant manager comes in and tells me and Tyson to clock off and go home.”

Boothe added that he’s worked at the Keene location since October but has been the shift lead for about six months.

“In that time I had to make a decision to either follow what my bosses were telling me to do or prioritize our customer’s public health and safety.”

The next day on July 12th, both were fired with no notice at the beginning of their shifts.

“We were fired for a decision I made to shut down the shop in the interest of the public,” Boothe said.

Nation added that they were also thinking in favor of the company.

“We prevented a bigger scenario and a bigger lawsuit possibly on their hands,” Nation said.

KAPP/KVEW reached out to the Benton Franklin Health District who completed a health investigation and inspection on July 19th.

“During the routine inspection, I discussed the complaint with the supervisor that was present. They said that they had mold in the walk-in and had cleaned it. We checked both the walk-in and the reach-in refrigerator and did not see mold during the inspection,” said Food Safety Program Supervisor Lars Richins.

RELATED: Dutch Bros Coffee and customers raise $1.9 million for ALS research

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “mold can cause many health effects including a stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing or wheezing, burning eyes, or skin rash. People with asthma or who are allergic to mold may have severe reactions. Immune-compromised people and people with chronic lung disease may get infections in their lungs from mold.”

To effectively clean “extensive amounts” of black mold, the CDC recommends contacting experienced professionals who have knowledge of removing mold from buildings.

Roasters Coffee also sent KAPP/KVEW the statement below:

“We take the health and safety of our customers and employees very seriously. The issue has been resolved and we passed health inspections this morning.”

However, both Nation and Boothe disagree that the situation is over.

“Since the day it happened, I’ve been trying to call anybody to figure out how to pick up my last paycheck or paystub or to even get in contact with anybody as to what happened or why the decision was made the way it was,” Nation said. “Nobody will answer their phones and I’ve called multiple times.”

Nation said he “loves” working in the coffee business and uses his income to put himself through college.

“In that aspect, it kind of just sucks. We’re out of a job, out of money,” Nation said.

Boothe added that three other employees working the same shift didn’t get fired.

One employee at a separate Roasters Coffee location confirmed the presence of black mold at the Keene location but wanted to remain anonymous in fear of retaliation from employers.

RECENT NEWS HEADLINES FROM THE KAPP-KVEW NEWS STAFF:

RELATED: Local coffee roaster’s new blend benefits Yakima Union Gospel Mission, La Casa Hogar