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Starbucks Loses Discrimination Case Following Demotion of Dyslexic Employee

Feb 09, 2016
Meseret Kumulchew brought a claim against her employer Starbucks as she claims discrimination based on her dyslexia made her suicidal.

Ms Kumulchew was a Supervisor at the Clapham branch, a role which included recording information, including fridge temperatures, and dealing with banking. As a result of severe dyslexia Ms Kumulchew made a series of mistakes which led Starbucks to accuse her of falsifying documents. Ms Kumulchew’s duties were reduced and she was forced to retrain.

Whilst Starbucks said that the errors amounted to fraud, Ms Kumulchew was successful in her claim that this amounted to disability discrimination. 

Employers have a positive duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees to ensure that they are not placed at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with persons who are not disabled. The duty applies during the recruitment process and during employment and must be reviewed by the employer.

Ms Kumulchew suggested that suitable adjustments might have included having a further person to check her calculations, or even affording her more time to check her own work. She also highlighted that many of Starbuck’s policies and documentation were in small font which she found difficult to digest. 

Employers must be careful to consider whether a positive duty to make reasonable adjustment may or has arisen and to take steps accordingly. Whilst a decision from the first level Employment Tribunal is not binding, it may be indicative of future first level decisions. It has also been suggested that there may be a rise in claim by dyslexic employees. 

Gary Smith

About the author

Gary Smith

Gary joined Nockolds in 2007 and is a Partner in our Employment Law Team. Before joining the firm Gary studied law at the University of Kent. ...

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