POSTED: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 1:45pm
UPDATED: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 - 1:49pm
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz dug in his heels about gay marriage after an investor complained that the company's support was eroding its bottom line.
"If you feel respectfully that you can get a higher return [than] the 38% you got last year, it's a free country," said Schultz, during the annual shareholders meeting on March 21. "You could sell your shares at Starbucks and buy shares in other companies."
According to a transcript of the meeting, investor-analyst Tom Stauber attributed his disappointment in Starbucks stock to a boycott from the National Organization for Marriage, which began last year.
"It's my understanding, something like tens of thousands of people signed on this particular boycott," said Stauber. "And then the [first quarter] after this boycott was announced, our sales and our earnings ... were [a] bit disappointing."
The National Organization for Marriage did not return a call from CNNMoney, though its website says more than 56,000 people have joined its "Dump Starbucks" boycott. Starbucks did not immediately return messages asking for more detail on the 38% return that Schultz mentioned.
Stauber complained that Starbucks' stock price had underperformed the S&P 500 over the last year.
"Until January a year ago, we existed without making gay marriage a core value of our company," said Stauber. "Hence we did quite well."
In responding to Stauber, Schultz emphasized that Starbucks employs more than 200,000 people and "we want to embrace diversity of all kinds."
This is not the first major company that has taken a stance on gay marriage. Dan Cathy, CEO of Chick-Fil-A, announced his opposition to gay marriage last year. Business surged as customers lined up at the fast food chain to show their support, while gay couples staged a "kiss day" in protest.