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EMPLOYMENT LAW 6/21/07

Starbucks to pay $85,000 to settle suit over fired barista with bipolar disorder

Starbucks Corporation will pay $85,000 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced on June 13, 2007. The EEOC claimed that a Starbucks in Seattle, Washington discriminated against a barista because of her disability a psychiatric impairment in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to company information, Seattle-based Starbucks owns or licenses more than 9,000 stores in all 50 US states and more than 3,000 in 39 foreign countries. Christine Drake, who has bipolar disorder, performed her barista duties satisfactorily for two years at a Starbucks shop in the Queen Anne area of Seattle after being granted an accommodation allowing for extra training and support, according to the EEOC's lawsuit (No 206-CV-1323 MJP). But, during her third year, new management told her she was "not Starbucks material," refused to continue the accommodation and ultimately fired her for discriminatory reasons, the agency alleged.

Starbucks agreed to pay Drake $75,000 and donate another $10,000 to the Disability Rights Legal Center, which provides legal representation for low-income people with disabilities facing discrimination, as part of the settlement. In addition, Starbucks reaffirmed its commitment to the ADA and agreed to train managers and supervisors about discrimination prohibited by law and to voluntarily provide information to the EEOC concerning its handling of disability discrimination complaints for the next year.

"The facts of this case illustrate how relatively minor accommodations are often all that disabled people need to be productive members of the work force," said the EEOC's San Francisco district office director, Joan Ehrlich. "It is important that all of Starbucks' managers understand their legal duties regarding disabled employees and provide them with the tools necessary to succeed. This is in everyone's best interest."

For more information on this and other topics, consult CCH Employment Practices Guide or CCH Labor Relations.

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