Starbucks sued after firing dwarf

The lawsuit says that after 3 days of training, the company dismissed an employee who asked to use a step stool.

By Kim Peterson May 17, 2011 12:38PM
You're a Starbucks (SBUX) barista who can't reach all the tools needed to do the job. Should Starbucks allow you a step stool?

That's at the heart of a lawsuit filed against Starbucks on behalf of Elsa Sallard, a dwarf hired to work as a barista in El Paso, Tex.

In the lawsuit, Sallard claims she was only allowed to train for three days before she was fired. She wasn't tall enough to do the job, and she asked to use a stool or a small stepladder. The same day, the lawsuit says, she was fired for posing a potential danger to customers and employees.

Cue the lawyers. The question now is whether Starbucks violated the Americans With Disabilities Act, which says employers cannot discriminate against people with disabilities. In addition, they must make reasonable accommodations for employees as long as it doesn't pose an undue hardship.

So is giving a barista a step stool an undue hardship? That's for the courts to decide. The company was sued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission EEOC, which is responsible for enforcing federal laws against job discrimination.

The commission said it tried to settle the case before filing the lawsuit, but apparently those efforts were unsuccessful.

"Employers cannot blithely ignore a request for a reasonable accommodation by a qualified individual with a disability," one of the commission's lawyers said in a statement. "Starbucks flatly refused to discuss Ms. Sallard's reasonable request. Instead, they assumed the worst and fired her. The ADA was enacted to prevent that kind of misguided, fear-driven reaction."

May 17, 2011 3:34PM

This story shows the downside of trying to help a disadvantaged person. If you hire them and then must let them go for even a good/unavoidable reason, it then gets in the news and sleazebag lawyers come out of the woodwork and convince the poor soul that he should sue. Minorities, females, older workers and the handicapped know exactly what I am taking about, as they are the obvious targets for greedy shysters.


Word gets around as it always does, then these folk face even harder times getting jobs in the future as a result. A vicious circle, to be sure, but they could always say no. But, they never do, as self interest prevails, again as always, a lot of it due to hardship caused by workplace and/or social discrimination. 

May 17, 2011 2:54PM
I don't understand why starbucks won't help this person. In my pizza store I have two different size ladders for some of the girls that are short. Plus all my employees help each other out if somthing is out of reach or to heavy. Sounds like pure discrimination to me.
May 17, 2011 3:57PM

So, she gets hired and finds that she can't work in a normal environment without the use of a stepstool. She requests and receives the stepstool. Then during a busy period in the day another employee trips over the stool gets injured and files for workman's compensation. The company is going to lose either way.

May 17, 2011 3:34PM
Why do Attorneys assume facts. Just because she is a dwarf, they are claiming with this statement, that if you are a DWARF then you are DISABLED?? and fall under the ADA??? How real persons with disabilities.
May 17, 2011 4:05PM

Do you think if they did get a stool or ladder for her (that when they said it could post a danger to other employees) that another person could trip over it hit their head on a counter , floor or whatever, guess what , another lawsuit with medical damages on top. I don't know about you, but the SB's I've been too don't have much room behind the counter.

May 17, 2011 3:18PM
Impossible to say.  Don't know all the facts yet.
May 17, 2011 4:22PM

A busy Starbucks during the rush in the morning/afternoon is a dangerous place just to the customers, I can't imagine watching 4 people running around behind the bar making various drinks and taking various orders and one of them having to lug around a stepstool. 


The stepstool poses an immediate tripping danger to the other employees and slows down the other employees and the employee using the stool; hence, bad customer service and a danger to all employees. 


I can already see it, the employee with the stool is on the stool, another employee runs into the employee on the stool, knocking them off the stool and the falling/spilling coffee burns all involved and customer close by. 


I didn't even know a Dwarf was covered by ADA, I didn't realize being short was a disability. 

May 17, 2011 4:56PM
Being a barista already has attendant risks such as scalds but now you want the employee to be on a step stool and take additional risks? And - of course the step stool intrudes into the already limited space increasing the risk for the others.  What if another employee catches her foot on the step stool and falls breaking her wrist? Starbucks now can be sued for $100,000 plus costs!
The ADA requires REASONABLE ACCOMMODATION for handicaps, not an increase in risk for the non-handicapped employees.  
May 17, 2011 4:40PM

On the surface it may appear to be discrimination but I don't think it was their intention.  What generally happens during an interview, the applicant will claim that they can perform all duties without any problem - just get hired - deal with any problems later.  Maybe using a stool or ladder does not seem like much to ask for, but when everybody gets busy and they're rushing around, someone could easily get hurt - not to mention scalded with hot coffee.  This is probably not the right work place for someone that will always need a ladder to perform their everyday duties. 

Of course the attorneys will jump on it but this "probationary" trainee should be given her paycheck and good wishes.  We all have limitations - I'm disabled because of arthritis - there are certain things that I simply cannot do - I wouldn't think of holding my employer responsible for things that have happened to me.  You adapt - keep trying - and give thanks for those things that you can do.

May 17, 2011 3:55PM
I doubt members of the Lullaby League and Lollipop Guild considered  themselves "disabled." So are dwarfs covered under ADA? And, in my business, it was made very clear that training periods were probationary in nature. Once the would be employee showed mastery of the job, he/she was officially hired.
May 17, 2011 4:55PM
Only in America,  if ya cant make it on your own then sue for a payday.  Its not the dwarfs fault that they were hired in the first place, they should not have been! If the moron that did the hiring knew anything about the work place conditions an requirements as far as the neccessary hieght required to even reach certain equipment to do your job at SB the dwarf should not have been hired  for that paticular job. If there was no other work position available for the dwarf to be transfered an trained for then the employer is perfectly in thier rights to dismiss a employee that cant preform the work reqiuired tasks!           When the employee is shown the requirements an responseabilities of their job they have the responsibility to be honest about their ability to preform that job with their employer, Dwarf couldnt safely do the job. YOUR FIRED!  An no the step stool is not a save peice of equipment to trying to drag around an climb up an down on in a SB, sure as hell to fall off the stool, when over reaching for something or another employee running into the damn stool then they can have worker comp claim for that!
May 17, 2011 5:28PM
avatar only the one side is considered in this argument.
The other side is that, according to the article above, Starbucks must make reasonable accommodations for employees as long as it doesn't pose an undue hardship.

Who do you suppose will face that undue hardship? The barista standing on the step-stool or those who have to maneuver around that step-stool? It's not like you can just move that stool out of the way during the busy time. And we all know how busy a Starbucks can get, throughout the majority of the day, and especially during holiday seasons.

gcbiskit, I'm surprised that you would consider the step stool request not 'unreasonable', given the nature of the business involved. It's not like standing at the checkout counter at a department store.
I am also an HR professional, and am surprised that gcbiskit et al fail to take into consideration the effect these 'requests' have on the other employees of the establishment. Where one may find this request reasonable and fair,  I can guarantee you that another - who is forced to step around in order to not knock this person down or to not spill boiling  hot coffee on this person, would disagree.
This takes it into a completely different arena, one called OSHA.

So, who's bigger? OSHA or ADA?
May 17, 2011 5:06PM
seriously- have u ever seen a starbucks? very crazy no room for the staff and there is no way anyone can just "stand" in one spot its not a job like that they are all moving and moving quickly!! I have a disability and a short person is NOT DISABLED!!!! Can they walk- yup! can they stand ? - yup - again a dwarf is NOT A DISABILITY- YOUR SHORT that's all!! And if a customer has to wait more than 2 minutes for a drink they get rude and pissed off!! -  grow up america! if this is all u have to worry about- shut it! look over seas and go live there
May 17, 2011 5:53PM
May 17, 2011 4:35PM

I never spend any money at Starbucks; they don't take good care of their employees, they are not a cool company (like they want you to think they are)


Why spend your money there?  The Coffee isn't that good!!

May 20, 2011 8:44AM
The stool could get in the way and other employees may trip over it while carrying hot coffee. It's a danger for the little person because she could lose her balance going off and on the stool while carrying hot coffee. Also she needs to be able to reach things and do things on her own with very little help. It's a fast pace job and other employees can't keep stopping if she needs to reach something or whatever, especially if they are really busy and other baristas need to concentrate on the drinks they are making.
May 17, 2011 5:34PM
to one-who-wonders.
Hey, try being one who doesn't look stupid cuz they didn't check their facts first.

But i guess one has to get rid of the words in the mouth before one can insert the foot.

The American with Disabilities Act states that it is a disability. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that a person with a disability has a physical impairment. A little person encounters things in everyday society that he or she has to deal with and overcome. For instance, he or she may have trouble doing business at a regular counter in a department store or at a banking machine. The physical challenges of living in our society may cause a little person to be seen as having a disability.


May 17, 2011 6:51PM
So the country is Trillions in debt, and unemployement is at an all time extended high,  but the government  uses our tax dollars to sue a business that employs thousands. Step stool my ****, why doesn't he/she sue the NBA as well. Simply stupid.
May 25, 2011 9:42PM
The bigger question is why would Starbucks hire her in the first place?  Someone must have noticed her heighth and thought "maybe she can't reach the needed Barista tools.  Might this turn into a problem?"  Really, Starbucks, the heighth of all applicants and those interviewed is literally staring you in the face, so I fail to understand why she was allowed to be hired to begin with.  It simply doesn't make any sense and truly, from what I read here, the way it was handled was a violaion of ADA not to mention just plain common sense.  I find it even hard to believe that it took more than the first hour into training to realize her heighth (or lack thereof) would be a problem.  I have to ask the dwarf if she was trying to make a point by even becoming a Barista.  Yes, the stool(s) could and probably would pose a severe safety issue, so in that regard I agree with Starbucks, but to have even hired her boggles my mind.  
May 17, 2011 4:00PM
Iif there was an issue... they shouldn've never hired her. Why should it be a problem for her to ask for a step stool? The store should've tried it out and if it didn't work then have her do something else... like cashier or something... or drive-thru order taker. Where's the threat? Yeah SBUX is gonna have a problem with the whole EOE thing.
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