By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Starbucks shows how to mitigate a PR disaster

Yesterday I learned from Little People of America’s Facebook page that Starbucks had reached a $75,000 settlement with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of a woman who was fired during training because of her dwarfism.

The Starbucks was located in El Paso, Texas. According to the El Paso Times, the woman, Elsa Sallard, was denied her request to use a stool or a stepladder, and was fired on the alleged grounds that she would pose a “danger” to others.

What made me curious was the low amount of the settlement. So I went back and saw that the folks at Starbucks corporate headquarters, to their credit, took this seriously from the moment they learned about it. In May, Starbucks spokeswoman Stacey Krum said the company had “zero tolerance” for discrimination, adding, “We definitely want to make clear how seriously we take the concerns that have been raised in the lawsuit.”

According to a statement by Robert Canino, a lawyer with the EEOC:

Starbucks’ swift action to work constructively with the EEOC in this case, not only by compensating the  applicant who was turned away, but by committing to additional training for  other stores in the El Paso  area, sends the right signal from the corporate office. The Starbucks customer environment is one  that is often considered comfortable and progressive. By fostering that same environment for people  behind the counter, Starbucks reinforces a positive public image.

In this case it looks like doing the right thing also saved Starbucks a lot of money.

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Will WTKK post audio of Graham dwarfism segment?


  1. Andy Koppel

    What am I missing here? Did Starbucks invite her back? If not, this is meager compensation in a brutal job market for anyone, let alone someone subject to discrimination.

  2. At least Starbucks headquarters handled this right in the sense that they didn’t fight it in a jury trial, and they provided training to stores in the El Paso area (arguably, perhaps more stores than just El Paso would benefit from such training.)

    This little person exercised her civil rights. The doors to our courts are open to all, and if we were to capriciously slam them shut without hearing the merits of cases, none of us would have any civil rights left: the right to your day in court cannot be rationed out just to a few people. Starbucks chose to settle the case instead of proceeding to trial.

    It sounds like there indeed was a valid civil rights claim here. I wonder if she could have been accommodated in some way?? In some super busy stores, it seems like you could have a person just be on register for a few hours – though I have no idea how realistic that is. On the other hand, maybe she wasn’t a good fit to be hired at all. But once hired, Starbucks had a duty to follow the ADA.

  3. “…doing the right thing also saved Starbucks a lot of money.”

    Isn’t that the thrust of a lot of the arguments that have made over the last two decades in favor of corporate social responsibility?

    It’s a small settlement. If it had been about racism, I’m guessing the settlement would have been higher. However, I’m also guessing that Starbucks would have fought pretty hard against the charge.

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