Starbucks Coffee Company violated federal law by denying a reasonable accommodation to a barista with dwarfism at its El Paso cafe and then firing her because of her disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today.
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.
"Starbucks has become a virtual icon of modern American culture, appealing to an incredibly diverse customer base," said Robert A. Canino, regional attorney for the Dallas District Office of the EEOC. "We'd hope that when considering hiring a person with a disability, Starbucks would choose to enhance its brand with the mark of equal opportunity and access."
The EEOC seeks injunctive relief, including the formulation of policies to prevent and correct disability discrimination. The suit also seeks lost wages and compensatory damages for Sallard and punitive damages against Starbucks Coffee Company. The EEOC filed suit (Case No. 3:11-CV00195-FM) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas after first attempting to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement.
"Employers cannot blithely ignore a request for a reasonable accommodation by a qualified individual with a disability," said Joel Clark, trial attorney for the EEOC. "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 enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov