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Starbucks is accused of disability discrimination

Starbucks, the nationally recognized coffee chain, may receive some negative media attention soon. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recently filed a lawsuit against Starbucks, accusing the company of discriminating against one of its physically impaired employees.

The EEOC is the federal agency charged with ensuring that employers do not discriminate against their employees. Disability discrimination by employers is prohibited Under Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA further requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for disabled employees. 

If a disabled employee makes a request for an accommodation in the workplace, an employer must discuss the request with the employee and determine whether the request is reasonable. An employer is prohibited from firing a disabled employee simply for making a request for such an accommodation.

The EEOC has accused Starbucks of denying a reasonable request for an accommodation by a female employee who has dwarfism. The company then fired her because of her disability. The woman was hired to serve customers at a Starbucks counter. She asked to use a stool in order to be able to take and fulfill coffee orders. After only three days of employment, Starbucks denied her request to use the stepstool and fired her. Starbucks claims that the woman's request would pose a danger to customers and employees.

The EEOC attempted to settle the case with Starbucks prior to filing the lawsuit. The EEOC hopes that the lawsuit will result in new employment policies at Starbucks designed to prevent future disability discrimination. The EEOC is also hoping that the disabled woman will be awarded damages for her losses suffered as a result of the discrimination, and damages representing a penalty against Starbucks for its discriminatory behavior.

Source: EEOC Press Release, "Starbucks Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination," 16 May 2011