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Starbucks lose disability discrimination claim brought by claimant with dyslexia

12 February 2016 #Employment

Starbucks have made the headlines having been found to have unlawfully discriminated and victimised an employee with dyslexia in a judgment issued by the Employment Tribunal this week.

Ms Kumulchew was employed by Starbucks as a Shift Supervisor, and struggled with reading and comprehending information due to her dyslexia.

Her responsibilities included recording fridge and water temperatures at specific times in the day.  Due to her condition, she made incorrect temperature entries but her line managers accused her of falsifying these recordings.  During the disciplinary process, the manager insisted she prove that she had dyslexia, and required her to produce a certificate.  Starbucks did not seek a medical opinion on her condition and the effect it had upon her, and issued her with a written warning.

The Tribunal found amongst other things that the disciplinary process and written warnings amounted to discrimination arising from disability contrary to section 13 Equality Act 2010. Due to failures to provide typed disciplinary notes in a timely fashion, the Tribunal also found that this caused Ms Kumulchew further disadvantage due to her dyslexia and there was a failure to make reasonable adjustments to the disciplinary process. 

The Tribunal also found that the written warning was issued because Ms Kumulchew had made allegations of discrimination, so was also an act of unlawful victimisation against her.

Whilst this case does not appear to establish any new principle of law, it is a clear example and reminder of the wide range of protections available to disabled employees in the workplace and the multiple liabilities employers can face if they fail to comply with the Equality Act 2010. 

In particular, none of the ill-treatment Ms Kumulchew received was found to be directly on the grounds of her having dyslexia and a disability per se, but her written warning, issued as a result of her error in recording temperatures was found to be in relation to something arising from her disability, which is sufficient to contravene section 13 Equality Act 2010.  The section 13 claim is proving to be a relatively broad protection available to disabled employees since its introduction under the 2010 Act. 

The case also demonstrates that even for large multinational companies with detailed equality policies in place, it is important to ensure managers are fully aware of their legal obligations, particularly in managing disabled employees and laudable guidelines must be implemented in practice.

We understand that a remedies hearing in this case is to be scheduled, where the claimant will likely to be eligible for a significant injuries to feelings award for the discrimination she had suffered.

Clarkslegal, specialist Employment lawyers in London, Reading and throughout the Thames Valley.
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