Eli Pierre has over a decade of experience in the food industry, and a rave recommendation from his last employer. So he was surprised when his interviewer for a position at a California Starbucks told him he'd be unable to work there. Now he's suing for disability discrimination.
The 25-year-old was born with half of a left arm. But this hasn't hindered Pierre (pictured at left) in service jobs, he says. "I've been employed for 11 years," he told a San Diego TV station. "I am fully capable of running circles around most people who have two hands in the service industry."
But according to Pierre's complaint, during his interview Feb. 1 at a Starbucks in Mission Valley, the hiring manager wasn't convinced and said, "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."
"I got angry about it," said Pierre. "I've never been told I can't do anything."
After the interview, Pierre contacted Starbucks' district manager, Sage Nord. She apologized in a message, saying that she wanted to assure him that "it is important to me to provide you with resolution." She offered Pierre an interview at another Starbucks store, but Pierre declined and is now boycotting their stores.
"I've been a longtime patron of Starbucks," he said, "and quite honestly, the taste in my mouth is awful for it right now."
On Feb. 8, he filed his lawsuit in San Diego. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, an employer cannot refuse to hire an applicant because of a disability, as long as the person is able to perform the "essential functions" of the job alone or with "reasonable accommodation."
Pierre's attorney, Joel Larabee, wrote in a statement to ABC News that Pierre would have been able to do the job with minimal or no accommodation, and that the hiring manager didn't even attempt to evaluate what accommodation Pierre might need.
"A decision was simply made on-the-spot without further exploration," he said, "based on ill-placed preconceived ideas of the limitations of his disability, and a lack of information, that Pierre could not do the job."
Pierre found the interview unsavory in other ways. It lasted only 10 to 15 minutes, and at one point the interviewer, making reference to Pierre's experience at a Victoria's Secret store, turned to the shift manager and said, "Maybe he can help you find the right bra size."
Pierre is charging Starbucks with various violations of discrimination law, as well as the intentional infliction of emotional distress. He is seeking payment of all statutory obligations and penalties under the law, as well as punitive damages, legal fees and loss of income. Larabee said a "seven-figure range would be reasonable."
Starbucks contests Pierre's version of events. A spokesman said in a statement: "We thoughtfully considered Mr. Pierre's candidacy based on his interview responses and qualifications. Along with several other candidates interviewed that day, we decided not to move forward with Mr. Pierre's application for the Mission Valley location."
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