About three months ago, news broke about a former Starbucks employee who filed a complaint against the company with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Here is a short blog post from late in May. Starbucks fired the employee, a person of short stature, just a few days into her training program. Evidently, the manager of a Starbucks in El Paso, Texas believed that a stool, which the employee had requested as an accommodation, would pose a threat to other employees. The EEOC complaint alleged that Starbucks discriminated against the employee on the basis of disability.
Earlier this week, the EEOC announced that the parties involved in the complaint had reached a settlement. The former Barista, Elsa Sallard, will be awarded $75,000 in damages. In addition, Starbucks managers in El Paso will attend Americans with Disabilities Act training programs. With the training programs, Starbucks will equip local managers with tools and information to address future accommodation requests.
The settlement announcement, especially so soon after the complaint was released to the public, is good news. I am happy that Sallard will receive compensation and I am happy that Starbucks is laying groundwork for an environment in El Paso, in front of and behind the counter, inclusive of people with disabilities.
Since the Americans with Disabilities Act, and well before the Americans with Disabilities Act, huge amounts of resources have been funneled to programs designed to support the efforts to employ people with disabilities in the work force. Despite those efforts, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is still much larger than the general population. For all I know, Sallard is working now at another job. But she could be, through no fault of her own, like many other people with disabilities, out of work despite all the effort put into employment. The resources are necessary. It will take those resources to change attitudes of employers reluctant to hire people with disabilities. Attitudes are the key.
I applaud Starbucks for implementing systemic change. And I believe it will make a difference, in El Paso and hopefully around the country. But in the face of stories about lawsuits and settlements, I would like to hear some stories about the people who are using simple accommodations in order to perform their jobs. These stories might help to change some attitudes. But even though the stories exist we won't hear them because the headline "man works at McDonald's with the help of a stool" is not as sexy as "Dwarf Barista sues coffee empire."
The stories should be told though. For the sake of people with disabilities in search of employment, and more important, for the sake of employers. If the stories are told, perhaps the next time a store manager, whether it be of a coffee shop, a Big Boy or a Gap, while pondering an accommodation request from a dwarf, instead of asking himself or herself, 'wouldn't that be dangerous?' would exclaim, 'a stool! Of course. why didn't I think of that!'