Starbucks is being sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for denying reasonable accommodations in an El Paso location for a barista with dwarfism. Starbucks has “become a virtual icon of modern American culture, appealing to an incredibly diverse customer base,” in the words of Robert A. Canino, regional attorney for the Dallas District Office of the EEOC, so it’s all the more disappointing to learn that Starbucks, after hiring an employee with a disability, did not accommodate her needs.
Here are the specifics of the suit, which was filed on May 16, according to Disability.gov; I’ve highlighted some sections in italics:
According to the EEOC’s suit, Elsa Sallard has a physical impairment, dwarfism. She was hired by Starbucks to work in a customer service position July 2009, but was only allowed to train for 3 days before she was fired. The job description for the barista position stated that no prior experience was required. Soon after being hired by Starbucks, Sallard asked to use a stool or small stepladder to perform the essential functions of preparing orders and serving customers at the counter. Starbucks disregarded Sallard’s request and refused to consider her use of a stool or stepladder, the EEOC said. On the same day that Sallard requested the accommodation, Starbucks terminated her employment, claiming that she could pose a danger to customers and employees.
Such alleged conduct violates Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in hiring, firing, job application procedures, advancement, compensation, job training and other terms and conditions of employment. The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as this does not pose an undue hardship. The EEOC filed suit after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
The EEOC is seeking “injunctive relief, including the formulation of policies to prevent and correct disability discrimination” from Starbucks. Joel Clark, trial attorney for the EEOC, comments:
“Starbucks flatly refused to discuss Ms. Sallard’s reasonable request. Instead, they assumed the worst and fired her. The ADA was enacted to prevent that kind of misguided, fear-driven reaction.”
The EEOC’s suit on behalf of Elsa Sallard resonates with me. With my son Charlie now a teenager, the day school will be over and he’ll need a job is right around the corner. Charlie is highly motivated to work but certainly has many challenges and will need numerous accommodations; for one thing, he will need to be supervised by a job coach. We are thankful the ADA exists to provide protections for workers with disabilities, and to send the message to employers that it is more than worth their while to hire, and to make accommodations, for a diverse spectrum of individuals eager to make their contribution to society.
Photo by marcopako