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Starbucks Sued for Discrimination by Deaf Former Employee

She claims the company refused to provide her a sign language interpreter for staff meetings.

Jim G./Flickr

Another day, another lawsuit for Starbucks: The coffee goliath is now being sued by a former barista who says the company discriminated against her for being deaf, reports ConsumeristThe Arizona woman, who worked for Starbucks from 2007 to 2014, says over the years she repeatedly asked "for reasonable accommodations, such as sign language interpreters for staff meetings, training, and other important work events, and was denied in most instances."

The Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into federal law in 1990, dictates that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to enable disabled employees "to perform the essential functions of a job," unless doing so "would impose an undue hardship on the operation of [the] business." The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission specifically states that this includes providing interpreters.

The woman filed a discrimination complaint with the EEOC and claims she was then fired in retaliation. According to the lawsuit, Starbucks told her she was being fired for having visible tattoos. (The company's tattoo ban was lifted soon after.)

The plaintiff is seeking not only damages from Starbucks, but also wants an injunction against the company to keep it from discriminating against other disabled employees "and from engaging in retaliation against its employees for participation in protected activity." She also wants her job to be reinstated.

Reached for comment by Eater, a rep for Starbucks issued the following statement: "We deeply care about our partners (employees) and offer an inclusive and accessible work environment where everyone is welcome, respected and valued. This partner was no exception." The spokesperson also provided a link to the company's statement on access and inclusion for people with disabilities, which specifically states that it provides "sign language interpreting services."

Deaf Law Center attorneys Eric Baum and Andrew Rozynski, and deaf liaison Sheryl Eisenberg-Michalowski of the firm representing the plaintiff, Eisenberg & Baum released the following statement to Eater:

"The fact that Starbucks flatly refused to meet Ms. Roberts' communication needs and left her to fend for herself, shocks the conscience. Ms. Roberts, through her hard work and dedication, worked for seven years at Starbucks only to be fired under the guise of having tattoos which she had during her whole employment. Ms. Roberts was retaliated against because of her insistence on having the equal access to communication that she was entitled to under the law. This case is not just about issues of accommodation; it's about having the right to be treated fairly and equally in society."

It's not the first time Starbucks has drawn ire from the deaf community: Back in 2013, the chain was sued by a group of 12 deaf customers who claimed employees at a Manhattan location mocked and discriminated against their coffee group. Other lawsuits recently filed against the coffee chain include one from a customer who says she was served hot chocolate spiked with cleaning products, and another from a Canadian employee who says her manager assaulted her.

Update 10/21; 6:34 p.m.: This post has been updated to include a statement from Eisenberg & Baum, the firm representing the plaintiff.

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