California Man With Half an Arm Sues Starbucks, Alleging Discrimination

A San Diego man alleges discrimination by Starbucks because of disability.

February 15, 2012, 7:20 AM

Feb. 15, 2011— -- Starbucks is facing allegations of discrimination from a job applicant who claimed he was "blatantly" discriminated against because of a disability during a job interview at one of the coffee chain's San Diego stores.

In court documents filed on Feb. 8 at the Superior Court of the State of California in the County of San Diego, Eli Pierre, who was born with half of a left arm, alleged he "was not hired for the position because of his disability, despite his capable work history."

According to the complaint, obtained from Pierre's attorney, Joel Larabee, on Feb. 1, after Pierre mentioned that his disability was not a problem for a barista position, a hiring manager stated, "Oh, at our store our syrups are up high, and I have to extend my whole body to pump it. You can't work here with one arm."

"We employ many individuals with a wide range of disabilities. A disability such as Mr. Pierre's would not disqualify him, or any other candidate, for employment at Starbucks," a spokesperson for Starbucks told ABC News.

"Based on our initial investigation, we found that Mr. Pierre's description of what occurred during the interview is vastly different than our own," said the spokesperson, who told ABC News that Pierre was considered for the position based on his responses in the interview and qualifications.

"We decided not to move forward with Mr. Pierre's application for the Mission Valley location," the spokesperson told ABC News.

The complaint filed by Pierre alleges that because of interruptions, the interview for the barista position lasted only about 10 to 15 minutes. After mentioning a part time-position at Victoria Secret, the interviewer turned to the shift manager, who was present during the interview, and said, "maybe he can help you find the right bra size."

The complaint states Pierre was "shocked and offended" by the remark "after being discriminated against based on his disability."

The suit stated there was "no discussion of any possible accommodations of Pierre, no discussion of whether he actually needed any accommodations, no discussion about how he could perform the essential job functions and no discussion of his past experience, which may be analogous to the position and duties at Starbucks.

"Pierre was simply summarily dismissed based on his appearance/disability/perceived disability ... without further investigation that Pierre could not do the job," stated the complaint.

Pierre was upset by what allegedly occurred.

"I got angry about it. I mean, I've never been told I can't do anything," Pierre told 10News. "She said, verbatim, I 'can't work here with one arm.'

"I've been employed for 11 years. I am fully capable of running circles around most people who have two hands in the service industry," Pierre added.

According to 10News, Pierre had previously worked as a bartender and a waiter.

"Eli, when he worked here, was completely amazing. ... He can carry more than somebody I have ever seen with two arms," said Shawn Zambarda, Pierre's previous employer told

In his lawsuit, 25-year-old Pierre has accused Starbucks of wrongful failure to hire in violation of public policy, wrongful failure to hire and discrimination in violation of the Federal Employment and Housing Act, failure to take steps reasonably necessary to prevent discrimination in violation of FEHA, failure to make reasonable accommodations and failure to engage in the interactive process in violation of FEHA, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

"While we allege that Pierre could competently perform the job duties (of Barista) with minimal or no accommodations, our main concern in this lawsuit is that no interactive discussion took place to evaluate any potential limitations or accommodations," Larabee, Pierre's attorney, wrote in a statement to ABC News. "A decision was simply made on the spot without further exploration, based on ill-placed preconceived ideas of the limitations of his disability, and a lack of information, that Pierre could not do the job."

He continued, "No person with a disability should be told in a job interview that she or he cannot do something without proper due diligence of any limitations or accommodations being afforded. This is contempt prior to investigation and is unlawful in the State of California."

According to the lawsuit, Pierre is seeking payment of all statutory obligations and penalties as required by law; punitive damages; costs of suit; loss of income incurred and to be incurred according to proof, among other things.

"We have been advised that Mr. Pierre has filed a lawsuit based on his claims, and look forward to responding," a Starbucks spokesperson told ABC News.

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