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.
Meseret Kumulchew was responsible for taking the temperature of fridges and water at specific times and entering the results in a duty roster. She claims she was victimised by the company after inaccurately recording the results as part of her duties as a supervisor at Starbucks in Clapham, south-west London.
Starbucks accused Kumulchew of falsifying the recordings, reduced her responsibilities and ordered her to retrain.
Kumulchew, who is still employed by Starbucks, said she had made her bosses aware of her dyslexia, and the accusation of falsifying numbers left her feeling suicidal.
Campaigners say the ruling in favour of Kumulchew highlights the duty of all employers to make allowances for dyslexic staff.
The tribunal found that Starbucks had failed to make reasonable adjustments for Kumulchew’s reading difficulties under the 2010 Equality Act, which replaced the Disability Act. It said the company showed little or no understanding of equality issues.
Kate Saunders, the chief executive of the British Dyslexia Association, said Kumulchew’s plight highlighted a common problem. “All organisations must make reasonable adjustments for those with disabilities, including dyslexia, under the Equality Act 2010. They should have appropriate policies in place and make sure these are movements to avoid discrimination, including in the recruitment process, the work environment and colleague reactions,” she said.
“Sadly our national helpline receives numerous calls from adults who are facing serious problems and discrimination in the workplace. Many have found themselves very emotional, stressed, anxious and feeling as if they have nowhere else to turn. These feelings, which with the right support and awareness could easily be avoided, can lead to time off work and loss of productivity. People with dyslexia can bring unique skills to an employer and they should be highly sought after.”
Starbucks said it could not discuss the case as it was still in negotiation with Kumulchew, but said it was committed to having a “diverse and inclusive workforce”.
A separate hearing to determine how much compensation Starbucks should pay will be held in the next few weeks.
In a statement it said: “We have been working with the British Dyslexia Association on improving the support we provide to our employees, and did so concerning Meseret Kumulchew in 2015.
“We recognise however that we need to do more, which is why we are investigating what additional support we can provide.”
Rebecca joined the HRreview editorial team in January 2016. After graduating from the University of Sheffield Hallam in 2013 with a BA in English Literature, Rebecca has spent five years working in print and online journalism in Manchester and London. In the past she has been part of the editorial teams at Sleeper and Dezeen and has founded her own arts collective.