El Paso Café Refused Reasonable Accommodation and Fired Barista Due to Dwarfism, Federal Agency Charged
EL PASO — Starbucks Coffee Company has agreed to pay $75,000 and provide other significant relief to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The EEOC had charged Starbucks Coffee Company with unlawfully denying a reasonable accommodation to a barista with dwarfism at one of its El Paso stores and firing her because of her disability.
According to the EEOC’s suit, Elsa Sallard, whose stature is small due to dwarfism, was denied an opportunity to work for the world’s largest coffeehouse chain. The job description for the barista position stated that no prior experience was required. During the orientation training, Sallard suggested that she could use a stool or small stepladder to more easily perform some of the tasks of preparing orders and serving customers. The manager at the El Paso Starbucks location disregarded Sallard’s request, the EEOC said. On the same day that Sallard requested the accommodation, Starbucks terminated her employment, claiming that she would pose a “danger” to customers and employees.
Such 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 it would not pose an undue hardship to the business. The EEOC filed suit (Case No. 3:11-cv-00195) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.
“Starbucks swift action to work constructively with the EEOC in this case, not only by compensating the applicant who was turned away, but by committing to additional training for other stores in the El Paso area, sends the right signal from the corporate office,” said Robert A. Canino, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Dallas District Office. “The Starbucks customer environment is one that is often considered comfortable and progressive. By fostering that same environment for people behind the counter, Starbucks reinforces a positive public image.”
Under the terms of the two-year consent decree settling the case, Starbucks will pay $75,000 in relief to compensate Sallard. In addition, Starbucks has agreed to provide training on the ADA for all managers and supervisory employees at all of Starbucks’ El Paso locations. The ADA training will
specifically focus on the reasonable accommodation of individuals with disabilities. Sample scenarios used in the training will include a discussion of the reasonable accommodation of applicants and employees who are small in stature as a result of medical conditions or disabilities such as dwarfism. The training will also include a specific discussion or instruction relating to definitions of disability under the ADA, as amended by the ADA Amendments Act, and the interactive reasonable accommodation process.
EEOC Trial Attorney Joel Clark added, “The ADA prohibits managers from ignoring reasonable accommodation requests made by qualified persons with disabilities. In-house education can be effective toward eliminating assumptions and promoting an interactive process for a more inclusive work force.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.