A Starbucks in El Paso, Texas hired Elsa Sallard in July 2009 for a customer service position. On her third day of training, Sallard, who has dwarfism, asked for either a stool or step ladder to assist her with helping customers.
Starbucks terminated her employment that day, claiming “she could pose a danger to customers and employees,” sparking a lawsuit from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Starbucks for violating federal discrimination law.
“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, in a news release. “Starbucks flatly refused to discuss Ms. Sallard’s reasonable request. Instead, they assumed the worst and fired her. The (Americans with Disabilities Act) was enacted to prevent that kind of misguided, fear-driven reaction.”
Under the ADA, employers are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” to qualified individuals with disabilities. The customer service position required no previous experience.
The lawsuit, filed May 17 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, seeks lost wages and compensatory damages for Sallard and punitive damages to Starbucks.
It also requires Starbucks to create policies preventing future similar incidents. Starbucks spokeswoman Stacey Krum told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Starbucks has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination of any kind.
“We’re really proud of our track record for hiring partners with a variety of disabilities,” she said.
The National Institutes of Health defines a dwarf as sombody with a height of less than 4-foot-10. More than 200 different types of medical conditions are defined as dwarfism.