The importance of reasonable adjustment: Meseret Kumulchew v Starbucks

  • By Blog Admin
  • 25 Aug, 2016
Starbucks has lost a disability discrimination case after it wrongly accused a dyslexic employee of falsifying documents when she had simply misread numbers she was responsible for recording. This case is a useful reminder of the importance of making reasonable adjustments when an employer is aware of an employee’s disability. Once an individual has informed their employer that they are suffering from any recognised medical condition or symptoms which could afford them disabled status, the employer should take steps to inform themselves of the nature of the condition and how this may affect the employee in the workplace.

In   Meseret Kumulchew v Starbucks , the employee was a supervisor at a branch of Starbucks and was responsible for taking the temperature of fridges and water at specific times and entering the results in a duty roster. During a disciplinary hearing, she was accused of falsifying the documents after erroneously entering incorrect information; she was also asked to provide a "certificate" to prove her dyslexia.
The employee was then given fewer duties and was informed she would need to retrain. This left her feeling suicidal.
Ms Kumulchew brought a claim against Starbucks at Tribunal alleging disability discrimination saying that she had always disclosed to her employer she was dyslexic and suffered with problems at work such as difficulties with reading, writing.

The Tribunal found Starbucks had failed to make reasonable adjustments for the disability and had therefore discriminated against her because of the effects of her dyslexia and her ability to carry out her day to day duties at work. Instead of finding ways to support and assist her in fulfilling her duties, Starbucks accused her of falsifying records and treated her unfavourably.
The Tribunal also said Ms Kumulchew had been victimised and there appeared to be little or no knowledge or understanding of equality issues from Starbuck. Some proper investigation and advice might have highlighted how the role could have been adjusted; it was its duty to take such steps as it is reasonable to take to avoid the disadvantage.

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Dyslexia generally presents difficulties with words and numbers and sufferers need to be shown how to do tasks visually.
Whether dyslexia is deemed to be a disability under the   Equality Act 2010   definition will be dependent upon the severity of the individual’s condition. If it has “substantial” affects on his/her ability to carry out normal day-day activities then it will likely be a disability. If not, then it will likely not be.

This is an area where each case will need to be reviewed on its own facts. Please contact British Dyslexia Association  for more information and/or advice on Dyslexia.

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