Starbucks Sued For Discrimination Against Worker with Dwarfism

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; 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


Bryna Pizzo
Bryna Pizzo4 years ago

Thank you! Boycott Starbucks!

Jamie J.
Jamie J6 years ago

Personally, I think that either they shouldn't have hired her because they thought it was too dangerous, or that they should have discussed it with her first after hiring her and tried to find a way to make it work. From what I remember of the few times I went to Starbucks, there was usually a person at the till and someone else working behind them at the machines, making up the drinks. Why couldn't she have gotten one of those small folding stools to stand on? It wouldn't take up much more space than an average person's feet and legs, and if there's enough space behind her no-one should have tripped over the stool. She could have just worked at the till, and folded up the stool when done. Good grief, they're smaller than a milk crate and take up less space.

... Unless she was too short for even that. I wonder how tall, exactly, this young woman is.

But then again, all of this is coming from a person who's never worked at a coffeeshop. I'll just remain skeptical of the whole situation.

Gaik Beng k.
Gaik Beng K6 years ago

Folks....just stop drinking Starbucks - plain and simple. Lotsa other smaller coffee stores out there....LOTS!

monica r.
monica r6 years ago

So she's working the bar, on her stepladder (we tried a step-stool for someone short, just to fill the bean hoppers, and district threw it in the trash, we had to use an OSHA-approved step-ladder, so this girl NEVER stocked the beans) and I need something from the refrigerator under that counter, but her ladder she's standing on is blocking me from opening it. So she has to get down, move the ladder, etc. There goes getting a drink in the customers hand in under 3 minutes.

They should have a height requirement like airlines do. If you aren't tall enough to get the safety equipment unassisted, you aren't qualified to be a flight attendant. Barista is a VERY physically demanding job, moving around, fast-paced, heavy crates and milk-jugs, 5 lb bags of espresso beans. And a step-ladder is not just inconvenient but a safety hazard to others. Bringing it out to change the menu boards for 15 minutes is one thing. Having it in the bar area all day with someone up and down it is not "reasonable".

Lika S.
Lika P6 years ago

She's either qualified to do the job or she's not. The fact they hired her in the first place means she's qualified. So rather than using stereotype & fear to fire her, they should have opened up that option, just to see how it works. If it's a no go, then fine, at least they gave her a chance.

Maybe if Starbucks wants to discriminate, I should stop buying... Just to let people know, I have a lot of java loving friends, and I have a big mouth. I can ask them to go elsewhere, such as caribou, or local shops.

Christine S.

She shouldn't have been hired in the first place if having a stool behind the counter would have been a work hazard. All the manager had to do was say, "The position is filled, thank you for applying..."

Past Member
Past Member 6 years ago

Whether the stool or ladder could potentially be dangerous or not they should have at least discussed it with her. They should have had the conversation, then come up with ideas to get round it.
One example that quickly springs to mind - I know in UK starbucks stores they have one person who only works the till & takes orders she could easily have used a bar stool there. Other baristas wouldn't be using or walking close to it as there would be enough space and it's easy to remove when she takes breaks or finishes a shift.
THIS IS A REASONABLE ADJUSTMENT. Yes you have to balance the ADA (DDA/Equality act) with health and safety but there is almost always something workable if you only look for it.
Starbucks have officially lost my custom.

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan6 years ago

If someone tripped over the ladder/stool with a boiling hot drink in their hands it could cause serious injury.It is very fast paced work, I think that Starbucks at the moment are between a rock and a hard place.

Matthew K.
Matthew K.6 years ago

My friend with dwarfism uses crutches and has deformed fingers and would never be able to perform this job. But she is an award winning writer, director, performer. Without the Disability Act she would not even be able to enter most theaters. The issue is reasonable accomodations can be made in many circumstances but for decades they were not. But I also think it may be equally reasonable to consider job placement. People with disabilities have a difficult time getting jobs not only because sometimes they are not able to perform the tasks but often because of rampent discrimination.

Juliet D.
judith sanders6 years ago

I'm sorry, but having a stool behind the counter is a hazard to coworkers. It wouldn't be long before one of them tripped over it. Barristas have to move around pretty quickly in a very limited space. I suspect she was hired knowing she couldn't do the job effectively, but the manager couldn't find an acceptable way to tell her it wouldn't work out.

A little common sense is necessary on all sides. I am only 5' tall, so I have never attempted to take a job where the cash register drawer or the deep fryer would be at bust level, or a job in a store were I couldn't be seen behind the clothing racks or the counter. Same goes for any job where i would have to frequently ask a coworker to get things down from a high shelf or lift something that was too heavy for me. The workplace - heck, even the kitchen in my house- was not designed for us shorties. I'm not disabled in any way, so I can't demand that the world be changed to suit me.