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Starbucks sued by EEOC for wrongful termination and violating ADA

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted to level the playing field and enable those with disabilities to live and function normally in society. As it relates to employment, the ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities who are either employees or applicants.

If a company is found in violation of the ADA, that company can be sued by the government. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has accused the nation's largest coffee chain of just such an offense. The EEOC recently filed a lawsuit against Starbucks alleging that the company violated the ADA by wrongfully terminating a woman with dwarfism.

The woman worked for only three days at a Texas Starbucks in 2009. She was training to be a barista. According to the lawsuit, the woman requested a stepladder or stool to aid her in drink preparation. She claims that her request was denied and that she was fired the same day.

The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations unless doing so would cause an undue hardship. Starbucks defended its decision by saying that providing the woman with a stool "could pose a danger to customers and employees."

Presumably, the danger would stem from the fact that a step ladder in the small space behind the counter could create a tripping hazard. Additionally, they may argue that there could be an inherent danger in trying to prepare very hot drinks while standing on a stepladder or stool.

However, the EEOC does not accept the claims made by Starbucks. An attorney for the EEOC says: "Employers cannot blithely ignore a request for a reasonable accommodation by a qualified individual with a disability. Starbucks flatly refused to discuss [the employee's] request. Instead, they assumed the worst and fired her."

A spokeswoman for Starbucks says the company has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to workplace discrimination. She adds that "we're really proud of our track record for hiring partners with a variety of disabilities."

Source: seattlepi.com, "Starbucks sued for firing barista with dwarfism," Amy Rolph, 17 May 2011

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