A woman with dyslexia has won an employment tribunal case on grounds that she suffered disability discrimination at the hands of her former employer, US coffee corporation Starbucks, which claimed she committed fraud by falsifying documents.
Ms Meseret Kumulchew won her tribunal case this past December after it was ruled she was discriminated against when her employer ignored her insistence that she had just made a mistake by accidentally entering incorrect information during her duties as branch supervisor as a result of her condition. She was subsequently made to perform lesser duties and expected to retrain for her role.
Ms Kumulchew worked at the Clapham, South-West branch of Starbucks where her work involved recording the temperature of fridges and water at specific times of the day. It was during this task that she made a mistake and was later accused of intentionally entering false information; an act of fraud according to Starbucks officials.
The company was aware of Ms Kumulchew’s disability and she strong asserts that the company never made any effort to develop her skills so as to support her struggle. Ms Kumulchew frequently made contact with her superiors to inform them of her situation. One message she sent read:
‘I’ll struggle, but don’t worry, help me and I’ll get there in my own time. I’m not going to affect your business, because for every customer I’ll roll out the red carpet. I love my job. Giving them a coffee may not be a big deal, but I’m making their life, for the day at least, happy.”
Starbucks were ruled to have not trained Ms Kumulchew in such a way that she received satisfactory support and had therefore behaved in a discriminatory way with no regard for her well-being or performance. This attitude was also found to be a direct contradiction of Starbucks’ equality principals.
The effect of the fraud accusation deeply harmed Ms Kumulchew. In an interview following the verdict she expressed her hurt: “The name fraud itself shouldn’t exist for me. It’s quite serious. I nearly ended my life. But I had to think of my kids. I know I’m not a fraud. I just made a mistake.”
Dr Kate Saunders of the British Dyslexia Association has released a statement on the issue of dyslexia discrimination: “One in 10 people has dyslexia to some degree. Many people will not know they have dyslexia because it wasn’t identified at school. Many dyslexics are struggling in the work place with very high levels of anxiety because employers do not have the training or the awareness to make adjustments for them.”
Reacting to the ruling, Starbucks too issued a statement to clarify their current position: “We are in ongoing discussions with this Starbucks employee around specific workplace support and we are not able to comment on a case that has not yet been completed.”
Another tribunal hearing will now be scheduled in order to assess whether Ms Kumulchew is entitled to compensation for her sufferance.