In a suit you don’t see filed everyday, the El Paso District Office of the EEOC recently filed a disability discrimination lawsuit against Starbucks over the termination of an employee suffering from dwarfism. According to the EEOC’s Complaint:
Charging Part has a physical impairment, dwarfism. . . [and] is substantially limited in the major life activities of, including but not limited to, reaching, lifting, and performing manual tasks. Charging Party was hired by the [Starbucks] as a barista, a customer service position. The job description for the barista position stated that no prior experience was required. . . On or about July 30, 2009, Charging Party requested the use of a stool and/or small step-ladder as a reasonable accommodation to enable her to perform the essential functions of her job. With reasonable accommodation, [she] would have been able to perform the essential functions of her job; to operate the cash register and prepare beverages.
After the Charging Party requested a reasonable accommodation, [Starbucks] failed or refused to engage in the interactive process and failed or refused to provide the Charging Party with a reasonable accommodation. On or about July 30, 2009, [Starbucks] terminated Charging Party’s employment, claiming that she would be a danger to customers and employees.
In my quick, and admittedly non-exhaustive research while writing this post, individuals suffering from achondroplastic dwarfism have not fared well in suits filed under the ADA. However, with the relaxed standard for qualifying for "disabled" status under the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act and its accompanying regulations (see post), the EEOC may have a stronger hand in this case if it can overcome Starbucks apparent "direct threat" defense.
You can review a copy of the EEOC’s complaint here.
UPDATE: On August 16, 2011, Starbuck entered a Consent Decree with the EEOC where it agreed to pay $75,000 to settle the charges of discrimination. You can see all of the terms of the Consent Decree here.