The 13 Biggest Scandals To Ever Hit Dunkin'

Dunkin' has been selling hot cups of coffee and delectable donuts for nearly 75 years. During that time, the company has gone from a single restaurant in Quincy, Massachusetts to more than 9,500 locations across the country, turning Dunkin' into the second-largest coffee chain in the United States, according to Restaurant Business

But that long history has also given Dunkin' plenty of time to find itself embroiled in a scandal or two. In recent years, the famed coffee and donut company has experienced more than its fair share of controversies. Some have been self-inflicted by Dunkin' itself, but others are the result of rogue franchise owners breaking rules or behaving badly. Per FranchiseBusinessReview, all 9,000-plus Dunkin' locations are franchises, so the company is quite vulnerable in this regard. Either way, it's the Dunkin' brand that has to suffer the consequences.

From using fake ingredients and illegal labor practices to a handful of unflattering viral videos and the infamous name change, here are the biggest scandals to ever hit Dunkin'.

Dunkin' was sued by New York state following security breaches

In both 2015 and 2018, Dunkin' experienced cyberattacks in which hackers gained access to customer information. Things went from bad to worse not long after as the company went from victim to culprit. In 2019, CBS reports, New York state filed a suit against Dunkin' for allegedly failing to respond to the attacks in a proper manner.

According to the lawsuit, Dunkin' did not notify the nearly 20,000 customers whose accounts were compromised, nor did it reset passwords, freeze accounts, or investigate how the attack occurred. Dunkin' didn't do much better three years later, the state alleged. It claimed the company notified the more than 300,000 affected customers of only an attempted hack when it was, in fact, successful. "Dunkin' failed to protect the security of its customers," New York Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. "And instead of notifying the tens of thousands impacted by these cybersecurity breaches, Dunkin' sat idly by, putting customers at risk."

Dunkin' initially denied any wrongdoing, but a year later agreed to a settlement with New York state (via Reuters). As part of the deal, the coffee company agreed to upgrade its security systems as well as pay a hefty $650,000 in fines.

Dunkin' has been accused of using fake ingredients

Many a quick-serve restaurant has been accused of using mystery ingredients. Look no further than Subway's tuna sandwich controversy of 2021, for instance. Dunkin' is no exception.

In 2016, Dunkin' announced that it would begin testing out a new and enhanced egg patty, which got people curious. After all, how much could you improve upon an egg? It turns out, Dunkin' "eggs" consist of 10 ingredients, including soybean oil, cornstarch, and xanthan gum. Some of these are commonly used food additives, so you could give Dunkin' a pass, but the very next year, the fake ingredient accusations got dialed up. 

In June of 2017, a New York City customer filed a lawsuit against Dunkin', claiming the restaurant's Angus steak-and-egg sandwich wasn't made with real Angus steak, but instead an inferior product of minced meat that contains 'fillers and binders'" (via CNN). Just a few months later, Dunkin' was hit with another ingredient-related lawsuit. This time, more than 100 people in Illinois filed a class-action suit alleging Dunkin' used imitation blueberries in their food instead of the real thing.

A Dunkin' franchisee bribed a politician

The Dunkin' brand had its name sullied in 2017 thanks to some alleged unethical behavior of a politician. In December of that year, CBS reported that Massachusetts state senator Brian Joyce was arrested and charged in a federal indictment accusing him of a range of crimes including racketeering, extortion, wire fraud, and money laundering.

At the heart of the indictment was the claim that Joyce accepted bribes in exchange for political favors. One of his alleged benefactors was the owner of more than 100 Dunkin' franchise locations. According to Universal Hub, Joyce worked to enact legislation that would protect the franchise owner from lawsuits. In exchange for his efforts, the franchisee gifted Joyce with free Dunkin' coffee — a lot of it. The indictment claimed the senator hauled in hundreds of pounds of coffee over the years, in the form of bags, boxes, and K-cups. In one instance, he requested and received 500 pounds of the stuff, worth more than $4,000.

Joyce's guilt was ultimately never determined. The government agreed to drop its case against the politician after his sudden death in 2018 (via Boston Herald).

Dunkin' has been sued for illegal labor practices

Dunkin' has had many public scandals, but it's no stranger to internal problems either. As such, the company has come under fire numerous times for violating labor rules. In 2011, Boston Business Journal reports that two franchise owners in Massachusetts were fined for breaking the state's child labor laws, including employing minors without the required paperwork and having minors work during impermissible hours. The very next month, two different Massachusetts franchisees were found guilty of the very same infractions.

A few years later, it was Dunkin's very own employees yelling foul. A 2016 federal lawsuit filed in Illinois by two former Dunkin' employees claimed their boss required them to work more than 40 hours a week, but never paid them overtime. In addition, according to the plaintiffs, illegal deductions were made to workers' paychecks that often resulted in employees being paid less than the state's minimum wage. 

In 2018, a company operating more than 60 stores in the state was found guilty of violating Massachusetts' Earned Sick Time Law, which provides employees with 40 hours of sick time per year. After receiving an employee complaint, an investigation by the attorney general found the franchisee illegally failed to inform employees about this policy. The company agreed to pay a $60,000 fine.

Dunkin' was sued for overcharging customers

Before Dunkin' was being sued by the state of New York, it was being sued by the people of New York. In 2016, a trio of New York City residents, as well as two from New Jersey, filed a lawsuit against the company, claiming certain stores were charging sales tax on items that legally shouldn't be taxed

According to the attorney handling the suits, a dozen different Dunkin' locations in New York and New Jersey overcharged customers to the tune of $14 million. When asked about the situation, Dunkin' passed the buck to its franchisees. "Dunkin' Donuts has over 1,000 restaurants in New Jersey and New York that are owned and operated by individual franchisees, who are expected to comply with all applicable state and federal laws including those relating to taxation," the company told Eater. It turns out Dunkin' didn't have much to worry about, at least from a legal perspective. The suits in both New York and New Jersey were eventually dismissed.

Dunkin' faced major backlash for its name change

Dunkin's most notable controversy in recent years, and maybe ever, was self-inflicted. In 2018, the company formerly known as Dunkin' Donuts announced plans to change its name to simply Dunkin'. The switch, which officially took place in January 2019, was part of a larger rebranding effort that included an updated design concept, a simplified menu, and the introduction of unique items. "By simplifying and modernizing our name, while still paying homage to our heritage, we have an opportunity to create an incredible new energy for Dunkin', both in and outside our stores." Dunkin' U.S chief marketing officer Tony Weisman said in a statement. 

The Dunkin' brass' excitement was not felt by its customers, however. Let's just say people weren't happy about the change and weren't shy about voicing their displeasure. A number of Dunkin' customers feared the restaurant shortening its name meant it would no longer be selling donuts, says Insider, though this was never the case. Others, particularly those in the company's home state of Massachusetts, felt the rebrand would turn their beloved, humble Dunkin' into another snooty fast food coffee chain (via Boston). 

The eatery was steadfast in its decision, however, and nearly three years later, Dunkin' hasn't relented. What's more, the name change hasn't affected business. According to Restaurant Business, Dunkin' is still the second-largest coffee chain in the country.

Dunkin' released a highly controversial ad overseas

Dunkin' scandals reached an international scale in 2013 when a highly controversial ad was released in Thailand. According to the AP, the advertisement, which was used to promote a new charcoal donut, featured a woman in blackface. Needless to say, the image was deemed racist by many people. "It's both bizarre and racist that Dunkin' Donuts thinks that it must color a woman's skin black and accentuate her lips with bright pink lipstick to sell a chocolate doughnut," said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. "Dunkin' Donuts should immediately withdraw this ad, publicly apologize to those it's offended and ensure this never happens again."

The ad was the work of the Thai franchise, which operates independently from U.S.-based Dunkin', according to NBC News. The CEO of Thailand Dunkin', whose daughter was the model featured in the ad, brushed off the controversy as "paranoid American thinking," according to the Guardian. "It's absolutely ridiculous. We're not allowed to use black to promote our doughnuts? I don't get it. What's the big fuss? What if the product was white and I painted someone white, would that be racist?"

Back in the states, however, it was clear that Dunkin' wasn't having any of it. The company promptly announced that it was working with the Thailand franchisee to get the ad taken down.

A Baltimore Dunkin posted a xenophobic sign

Dunkin' was plunged into another discriminatory scandal more recently. In 2018, WCNC reported that a Baltimore store was caught posting a sign offering free coffee and food to any customer who reported employees speaking languages other than English. A local news producer posted a photo of the sign on Twitter, where it proceeded to go viral.

It turns out, the sign was the work of the store's general manager. When the higher-ups at Dunkin' learned about it, the offending message was quickly taken down. "Dunkin' Donuts and our franchisees share the goal of creating a welcoming and hospitable environment for all guests," the company said in a statement. "The franchise owner has informed us that the sign was posted by their general manager based on her own personal judgment to ensure those standards are being met. While her intent was to address a customer service and satisfaction issue, the franchisee determined her approach was inappropriate and confirmed the sign has been removed."

Still, the damage was already done, with many on social media blasting the coffee outlet and threatening not to return (via US Weekly). "HOW DARE THEY! As an immigrant I am offended!!" one Twitter user wrote. Another commenter chimed in that "this is America, we are a beautifully diverse country and we wish to keep it that. If you want me to spend my money at a DD you better fix your problem in Baltimore."

Dunkin' sued franchises employing undocumented workers

Dunkin's immigration-related scandals continued in 2019 when it came to light that the company was suing several franchisees for hiring undocumented workers (via Restaurant Business). Dunkin' alleged the franchise owners failed to verify employees' eligibility, a violation of federal immigration law.

This wasn't anything new. According to Restaurant Business, Dunkin' has been filing similar lawsuits against franchisees dating back to 2006. But this round of legal action came during a time of intense nationwide debate over immigration. Dunkin's action also stood in stark contrast to its CEO's acknowledgment of the importance of hiring foreign-born employees, per Bloomberg.

All this led many to criticize the coffee company for its tactics. Some confirmed the CEO's point, claiming the industry is reliant on immigrant workers, a fact supported by Pacific Standard and a 2017 study by the National Restaurant Association. Yet, lawyers and labor experts siad they had never seen such an attack on franchisees before. "It used to be sort of a throw-in: This person hasn't done 15 other things, and they haven't complied with the E-Verify system," labor lawyer Vikrant Advani said (via The Counter). "The only difference now is that Dunkin' is going after these franchisees specifically, and probably only because they've failed to comply with employment verification laws."

A Boston Dunkin' store was overrun by rodents

The only thing worse for a restaurant than having your store taken over by a pack of mice is a video of said takeover going viral. But that's exactly what happened to a Boston Dunkin' location. According to Boston, in November of 2019, a passerby peeked into the window of a Maverick Square store only to see mice scurrying around. He pulled out his phone to record the critters and uploaded the videos to Facebook, where they received more than 20,000 views. One of those watching the footage was by the city's Inspectional Services Department, which launched an investigation that uncovered multiple health violations including trash on the floor, visible grime on the ice machine, and flies in the dining area.

Things quickly went from bad to worse for the location. The Dunkin' parent company was so outraged by the video, it sued the franchise operator. In the lawsuit, Dunkin' requested a judge order the management company to remove any evidence the location was once a Dunkin' store and pay for the irreparable damage the scandal had caused the brand.

A Dunkin' employee exposed behind-the-scenes secrets

It seems as if fast food employees exposing their company's secrets is all the rage these days, and more than a few Dunkin' workers have gotten in on the trend. One such employee used her imminent resignation as an opportunity to expose her company's hidden practices on TikTok. The clip shows, amongst other things, that Dunkin's "Sweet Cold Foam" is actually premade Reddi-Wip. Meanwhile, the former employee claimed that the Pink Velvet and French Vanilla syrups are the same and that the food prep areas are anything but pristine. The post quickly went viral and inspired a second video exposing that Dunkin' uses a premade avocado spread that the employee claims "taste like tuna."

The two videos have received more than 17 million combined views. Surely this is not the kind of publicity Dunkin' was hoping for. While some may not have been surprised that a fast food restaurant uses less-than-fresh ingredients or its kitchen is not sparkling clean, the video's viral popularity provided other Dunkin' employees to let even more unflattering secrets fly. One went as far as to claim that, at their store, "management was so bad that we had maggots growing in the iced coffee machine" (via

Dunkin' throws out a shocking amount of food

It's no secret an astonishing amount of the world's food gets wasted, but when you actually watch perfectly good food getting tossed in the garbage right in front of you, it can be downright shocking. Such was the case when a Dunkin' employee recorded a TikTok of herself throwing out tray after tray of uneaten donuts, Munchkins, and bagels

The minute-long video was posted to her account in January but went viral a few months later after it was shared on Reddit. According to Newsweek, the video received 6,000 comments in just 11 hours. It has since been viewed 1.6 million times. The employee went on to clarify she was simply following the company's rule of discarding unsold items at the end of the day, a policy confirmed by Reddit users. "This has always been the case," one commenter wrote. "In high school, our friends would throw everything away in white trash bags, set it by the dumpster, and we'd come and get them."

As to why they don't just donate the food, the employee explained that Dunkin' could be held liable if someone got sick, a theory backed up by others. "I assume it's a health code thing," a Reddit user wrote. "My local grocery store will donate old baked goods but they have to be picked up ON the 'sell by' date, because if it's after, even given away, they can be sued when someone gets [sick]."

A Dunkin' employee was arrested for spitting in a cop's coffee

Dunkin' found itself in hot water again due to the actions of a rogue employee, which nonetheless left the larger brand scrambling to recover its image. In August, a Dunkin' employee was arrested for disorderly conduct, reckless conduct, and battery to a peace officer after he spat in a police officer's coffee. According to CNN, the Chicago cop ordered a large black coffee at Dunkin' and removed the lid to cool the drink down, only to find what police described as "a large, thick piece of mucus which was later confirmed to be saliva."

"This is outrageous and disgusting. The men and women of the Illinois State Police put their heart and soul into protecting the lives and rights of all people in this state every day," Illinois State Police director Brendan F. Kelly said in a statement. "For their safety, ISP officers and employees will be prohibited from patronizing this location."

Dunkin' fired the employee immediately following his arrest. "The type of behavior reported to us is inconsistent with the brand's values," a company spokesperson told CNN.