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Starbucks settles lawsuit over ADA violation

In May, we wrote that Starbucks was in trouble with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC filed a lawsuit against the popular coffee company over the wrongful termination of an employee with Dwarfism.

In addition to wrongful termination, the lawsuit alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for their employees with disabilities unless those accommodations would create an undue hardship.

Records show that the employee was in training and had only worked at Starbucks for three days. Because she had difficulty reaching the counter, she asked for a small stepladder to aid her in performing her duties. She was fired that day, and was told that she would pose a danger to both customers and employees.

Last week, Starbucks agreed to pay the woman $75,000 to settle the lawsuit. It has also agreed to provide its managers and supervisory employees with training about disability issues. The training will be limited to employees in El Paso, where the dispute occurred.

An attorney for the EEOC was pleased with the decision, saying that it sent a good message. He added: "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."

Starbucks supervisory staff may have had some legitimate safety concerns about an employee operating a hot espresso machine on a stool or stepladder. However, this argument would have been very difficult to prove if the case had gone to trial. Settling the case was likely the best outcome for all parties involved.

Source: Thomson Reuters Westlaw News, "Starbucks settles with dwarf fired from barista job," Tim Gaynor, Aug. 19, 2011

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