During the coronavirus pandemic, we've seen instances of customers who don't follow mask requirements recording their interactions with store workers to publicly call them out -- usually on social media -- only to have those very videos cause more controversy for the person recording it.
One local video went viral and drove a GoFundMe campaign past $100,000 for a San Diego Starbucks barista who was berated by a woman who refused to wear a mask.
NBC 7 recently caught up with the barista, college student and dance instructor Lenin Gutierrez, and profiled his mission to uplift others and his plans for the campaign funds, which he said he still hasn’t touched.
And now there’s a new update to the saga: the man who created the viral “Tips for Lenin” GoFundMe page is being sued by the same Clairemont woman who tried to shame the barista for following COVID-19 safety protocols.
The defamation complaint, filed last week by customer Amber Lynn Gilles, claims the use of her Facebook post about an exchange she had with Gutierrez is a violation of her rights and a misappropriation of her name and image.
Gilles’ attorney Michael Harrington said in the wake of the ordeal his client received hate mail, death threats and even lost out on job opportunities.
In the weeks after the viral confrontation, Gilles told NBC 7 “I never threatened him, I just called him out on his actions."
Defendant Matt Cowan said he felt bad for Gutierrez after seeing Gilles’ post, which included images of Gutierrez.
She wrote about how he refused her service for not wearing a mask and that she would bring police and a medical exemption the next time she came to the coffee shop on Genesee Avenue.
“I couldn't believe she found a lawyer to file the motion,” Cowan said.
Gilles’ attorney says his client is seeking a pay day of her own.
“A monetary award is being sought and the amount has not been specified. We've opted to leave it unlimited and plead according to proof,” Harrington explained.
As for the complaint's claims about hate mail and death threats, Cowan doesn’t feel he bears any liability.
"I am not responsible for any actions that other people take,” he said. “I did not direct anybody to reach out to her company or her."
Cowan’s GoFundMe page raised more than $100,000 for Gutierrez, and he received every penny minus taxes and fees. In a conversation with Gutierrez last month, he told NBC 7 he plans to use the money to fulfill his dream of studying dance.
“[My client’s] name and likeness was copied off social media. Her name and image commercialized, monetized,” Harrington claimed. “This is very different than you or I in our personal lives making a comment on Facebook."
Harrington hopes to make this same argument before a judge. Meanwhile, Cowan is working on his own defense.
"I was able to bring the community together to raise $100,000 for a gentleman that is so humble and so kind and deserves every dollar that he got,” he said.
Cowan said he wouldn't hesitate to do it again -- and he has. He started a new GoFundMe page -- HELP I’m Being Sued By A Karen for Raising Money -- to help pay for his defense. The fundraiser is approaching 50% of its target after being live for a little more than a day.
No matter the outcome, Cowan said he hopes it won't stop people from doing good for others.
Gilles has created a GoFundMe page of her own.