FACT CHECK: A servicewoman was denied service at a Minnesota SuperAmerica location because her military uniform offended "foreign cab drivers."
Claim: A female Air Force National Guard member was denied service at a Bloomington, Minnesota, SuperAmerica station because her military uniform offended foreign cab drivers.
Origins: On 12 July 2015, Facebook user Dave Boucha published a now-deleted status update about a Bloomington, Minnesota, SuperAmerica gas station in which he claimed that a U.S. Air National Guard member had been asked to leave the service station because her uniform was "offensive to foreign cab drivers":
Soooooo this is beyond irritating.... Caitlin was in her Air Force uniform at the Super America on Post Road. She needed gas and went in to prepay. SHE WAS ASKED to leave and REFUSED service because they said it WAS OFFENSIVE to the Foreign CAB DRIVERS to be in the presence of an AMERICAN soldier... "F" them, and "F" Super American.. I am sooooo pissed.
Iterations of the status update copied and pasted elsewhere on Facebook (including on SuperAmerica's reviews sections) included the following line, which may or may not have been part of Boucha's original post:
Boycott the place and the cab companies of the offended cab drivers.
The claim was also shared by an individual to a Facebook page with a portion urging users to "make them famous." That re-post described the patrons offended as "Somalis":
A Super America gas station on Post Road in Bloomington, MN yesterday denied a woman in uniform service. It turns out that she is a reservist in the Air Force, and the Somalis there took offense to her being in uniform. She was told to go somewhere else
Twitter users shared the account, too:
— Bill Doms (@Bill_Doms) July 13, 2015
This report bore all the common hallmarks of a long-circulating "shunned serviceman" urban legend. In 2014 a virtually identical claim circulated on Facebook involving a Mobil station in Holly, Michigan, which outraged social media users until it was revealed to be a misunderstanding concerning grades of gas.
As with the incident in Holly, angry social media users traveled to the SuperAmerica station in Bloomington to voice their frustrations, and on 14 July 2015 SuperAmerica published a (somewhat unusual) "joint statement" with Boucha which provided little clarity about exactly what had transpired:
After a thorough investigation and extensive interviews with all those involved, we have come to the joint conclusion that the incident on June 13 at the Bloomington SuperAmerica location was a misunderstanding on both parts. Service was not denied to any military personnel in full uniform. Service was allegedly denied while Caitlin was in her Air National Guard drill attire. Jack Helmick, president of SuperAmerica stated, “We are deeply sorry if we offended Caitlin in any way. We are active supporters of our military men and women and would never purposefully offend any of them. We are committed to addressing our customer service procedures at the Post Road store which includes serving all customers including military and women customers.
Dave Boucha commented, “I posted that Caitlin was in uniform at the time of her visit to SuperAmerica, she had her Air National Guard drill attire on at the time. I want to apologize to SuperAmerica for any misunderstanding of information that I posted to my Facebook page stating she was in full military uniform. SuperAmerica has been very diligent in their continuing investigation of this incident, and it is clear to me that they are staunch supporters of our country’s military.”
Collectively, we both want to thank the men and women of our military for the many sacrifices they make to ensure we remain a free country. We thank all of those that showed their support for the military during this ordeal.
Boucha published an identical statement to his own wall, and an individual with the same last name described what Caitlin (no last name provided) might have been wearing during the incident:
Her drill uniform which was khaki pants, dark blue polo, and she had on a sweatshirt with either Air Force or Air National Guard logo on it.
This left the ambiguous situation of SuperAmerica acknowledging there was a "misunderstanding on both parts" while asserting "service was not denied to any military personnel in full uniform," with Boucha apologizing for stating that Caitlin was in "full military uniform." But SuperAmerica did not come right out and state that Caitlin hadn't been denied service, nor did they offer any explanation about what the "misunderstanding" entailed or disclaim that it had anything to do with her attire.
Dave Boucha then reportedly posted another apology to facebook indicating that he had merely passed along something he had heard about (but not witnessed) which turned out to be untrue:
It has been concluded that there was no factual evidence this incident occurred at Post Road Super America at this time. I took it upon myself to post what I believed happen without letting the correct parties investigate the matter thoroughly. I am responsible for posting what I did. I offer Super America my deepest apologies. Many people including store employees were affected by my actions. Please accept my apology. I only wanted to bring to light a situation I thought occurred. When speaking to the President of SA I stated to him that I did not want this person I thought did this fired, but to simply instruct them in sensitivity training. That's all I wanted from this whole ordeal. He can verify that. I did not want protests, store closing, threats, or other SA employees or stores affected. I apologies to the community of drivers at this location. I thank SA for a thorough investigation and the military for theirs. My post inflicted harm to SA and a several groups of people. I do apologize in every way an to everyone. I own what I wrote on my wall. There is no changing that. Please share this. I made a grave mistake and am sorry.
On 16 July 2015, St. Paul Pioneer Press published an article reporting that the accuser's story was disproved in the course of police response to a subsequent disturbance at the station that had been inspired by social media rumors:
A woman whose father claimed she was denied service at a Bloomington SuperAmerica on June 13 for wearing a military uniform was not in the store that day, according to a report filed by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport Police.
Footage from internal and external store security cameras showed Caitlin Boucha, who joined the Air Force in April, was not at the gas station on the day she told her father the incident occurred, according to the police report. After initially refusing to meet with law enforcement officials, the report says, Caitlin Boucha also was unable to identify the SA employee who asked her to leave the station.
The article also noted that police discovered several inconsistencies in Boucha's account of the purported incident:
After interviewing Caitlin Boucha, MSP Airport police officers discovered other inconsistencies in the story she told her father. For example, she said she used a credit card to buy gas at the pump after she was denied service inside the station. However, investigators found no record of the purchase in her credit card's transaction history.
SuperAmerica confirmed to the paper that the company is not planning any legal action against Boucha over the controversy.