Eli Pierre told 10News he has never experienced discrimination even though he was born with half of a left arm.However, he said that changed when he interviewed for a position at a Starbucks store in Mission Valley on February 1."I got angry about it. I mean, I've never been told I can't do anything," said Pierre.Pierre said the interviewer told him: "She said, verbatim, I 'can't work here with one arm.'""I've been employed for 11 years. I am fully capable of running circles around most people who have two hands in the service industry," said Pierre.Pierre excelled as a bartender and waiter, according to his former employer in Wisconsin."Eli, when he worked here, was completely amazing He can carry more than somebody I have ever seen with two arms," said Shawn Zambarda, Pierre's previous employer.According to Pierre, the interview took another wrong turn when his past employment at a Victoria's Secret store came up."She said to the co-interviewer, 'Oh, he can help you find a bra that fits,' which I am sure was uncomfortable for him and it was uncomfortable for me to have witnessed," said Pierre.Pierre's claims of discrimination could lead to a lawsuit worth millions of dollars."The strong policy of the state of California and the federal government is to allow people with disabilities the opportunity to get jobs like this," said Joel Larabee, a San Diego-based attorney hired by Pierre.The Starbucks district manager offered Pierre another interview at a different store and emailed the following apology:
"I apologize again that this happened and want to assure you that it is important to me to provide you with resolution."
Pierre said he refused a second interview at Starbucks and is now boycotting their stores.Starbucks' corporate office issued the following statement:
"Starbucks does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. We take this candidate's claims seriously and are currently investigating the matter to determine the appropriate course of action."
10News learned Larabee filed a lawsuit against Starbucks on behalf of Pierre on February 16. The company has 30 days to respond to the filing, but they have not yet done so as of February 22.Larabee issued this statement regarding the lawsuit:
"We are looking forward to Starbuck's response. I am confident that Starbuck's defense will be that they did not discriminate against Eli based on his disability, but that he simply wasn't a 'fit' for the store for other non-discriminatory reasons. In reality, he is the prototypical Starbucks Barista. He is friendly, articulate, always smiling, and has almost 10 years proven experience in the industry. Mr. Pierre will also testify that he was told in the interview that he could not do the job 'one-handed,' without any discussion of his abilities to do so, and, that based on his part-time job at Victoria's Secret, that he could help the male Starbuck's co-interviewer find his correct bra size. I look forward to finding out more about Starbuck's management training procedures and procedures where it pertains to disability discrimination and accommodations. I can't imagine that anywhere in that policy it allows for summarily dismissing a job applicant on sight without further exploration of what they actually can or cannot do, and I'm pretty sure it also doesn't condone interview lines of questioning asked with the intent of helping male co-workers find their correct bra size."