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July 4, 2006

Starbucks to face rights complaint

From: Globe and Mail, Canada - Jul 4, 2006


VANCOUVER -- A deaf Starbucks employee who is alleging workplace discrimination by the billion-dollar coffee company will make her case before a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in January.

Barbara Burdick, who was born profoundly deaf, alleges the company denied her full participation in employment because it repeatedly failed to provide her with a requested sign-language interpreter at staff meetings.

Profoundly deaf people can hear loud noises at low frequencies, but may need to read lips to decipher bits of conversations, explained Ms. Burdick's mother, Diane Burdick.

"I know Barbara and she's not doing this for herself; she's doing this because she believes it's right for all deaf people to be equal," her mother said, adding that at least three deaf Starbucks employees work in Vancouver coffee shops.

Ms. Burdick, 39, was hired to work at the Children's Hospital Starbucks coffee bar in January, 2005. She was able to work by reading customers' lips for orders.

"But if it was one of those elaborate, complex ones, she would hand the customer a piece of paper," her mother said.

In Ms. Burdick's complaint, she said she requested an interpreter to help her deal with a conflict she was having with another worker, but was told that was not affordable.

Ms. Burdick alleges she was again denied a sign-language interpreter during her first performance review because it was too costly. The meeting was then conducted fully in writing, but Ms. Burdick said she was concerned because she could not fully express herself because of her poor grammar.

She filed a complaint under the provincial Human Rights Code on Nov. 10, 2005, after a staff meeting during which Ms. Burdick said she "felt very humiliated" and "left the meeting early in frustration" because promised arrangements for an interpreter were not met.

The tribunal ruled last week that Ms. Burdick's case be heard after rejecting an application by Starbucks for the complaint to be dismissed.

In its application, Starbucks pointed out that between Jan. 20 and May 9, 2005, it had accommodated Ms. Burdick with an interpreter five times, for a total of 20 hours. The company also denied any adverse impact during her performance review because the review "was positive and resulted in her receiving a raise."

In a statement yesterday, a company spokesperson reiterated Starbucks' commitment to "embracing diversity."

"It is Starbucks policy not to provide details or comments on pending or current litigation," the spokesperson said. "We take any claim of discrimination seriously."

© 2006 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.