Wednesday, May 18, 2011

EEOC Files Suit Against Starbucks for Firing Dwarf Barista

The EEOC filed a lawsuit on Monday against an El Paso Starbucks for firing a barista with dwarfism. In a press release, the EEOC claims the dwarf barista was fired after only three days. She requested a stepladder to assist her in preparing orders and serving customers at the counter. Starbucks allegedly ignored the requests and instead fired her.

The lawsuit is based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities. It also requires employers to provide "reasonable accommodations" so long as they do not impose an undue hardship. A request for accommodation should prompt an interactive process. However, the EEOC claims Starbucks instead flatly refused the request and fired her.

Starbucks claimed the little barista could pose a danger to customers and employees. I couldn't find anything directly related to this case on the Starbucks website, but they do have a page dedicated to career diversity. The page asserts that "The Disability Rights Legal Center has honored us for nurturing an environment of respect and sensitivity to people with disabilities."

The big name (Starbucks), the EEOC involvement, and the simple but interesting fact pattern suggest that this case will receive some media attention moving forward. I will be keeping a eye on it.

Posted by Philip Miles, an attorney with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania in the firm's civil litigation and labor and employment law practice groups.