Vertically Challenged Now a Disability

According to a press release, the Starbucks Coffee Company has paid $75,000 to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to settle a lawsuit for unlawfully denying a reasonable accommodation to a woman with dwarfism. The woman, Elsa Sallard, claims she was fired from her job as a barista with the company because she is a dwarf. During training, Ms. Sallard was having difficulty using Starbucks’ equipment because of her height. She told her employer that she could likely perform her job duties if she was allowed to use a stool or stepladder. Starbucks ignored the statement and terminated her employment the same day, claiming that she would pose a “danger” to customers and employees. The EEOC brought suit on Ms. Sallard’s behalf.

The EEOC continues to broaden their definition of “disability” and continues to actively pursue claims against employers. It is imperative that employers monitor the possible disabilities of their employees and engage in the interactive process with these disabled employees to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be implemented. Failure to do so can result in private lawsuits, public suits filed by the EEOC, and a story on the front page of the Drudge Report (as happened to Starbucks).

This column is published for informational purposes only. It should not be construed as legal advice and is not intended to create an attorney client relationship. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.

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