Regulation of the Day 175: Firing Dwarves

Starbucks is in some hot water for firing an El Paso employee on her third day back in 2009. The employee happens to be a dwarf. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing the coffee chain for violating federal law. Starbucks counters by saying that the employee posed a safety hazard to her colleagues.

She asked to be given a stool to help her perform her duties. That could pose a tripping hazard for others. In a business built around piping-hot liquid, tripping hazards can be dangerous indeed.

Maybe Starbucks broke the law; maybe it didn’t. The courts will decide in due time. But there’s good reason to think that this law is a bad one.

That’s because EEOC is ignoring an important unintended consequence. It’s trying to help.  But it is actually hurting the very people it wants to protect.

Starbucks is learning — the hard way — that every dwarf and every disabled person it hires is a lawsuit waiting to happen. It is easy to imagine this having a chilling effect on its hiring practices. Why hire any disabled people at all? It would be nice to help out and give a job to someone who needs it. Bt  for many employers, it’s just not worth the litigation risk.

With the economy as it is, it’s hard enough as it is to find a job, especially for people with disabilities. The EEOC is only making it harder on them. Good intentions are nice. But results are what matter. And the result of EEOC’s lawsuits is less employment equality, not more.