You will be aware that Starbucks employee Meseret Kumulchew has recently won a disability discrimination claim on the basis of her dyslexia. But what are the implications?


In Ms Kumulchew’s case, her dyslexia meant that she made mistakes in recording information, including water and fridge temperatures. When these mistakes were discovered, Ms Kumulchew’s duties were reduced, and she was told to re-train. These reactions left her “feeling suicidal”.

In this case, Starbucks had obviously chosen to fight the wrong employee. Ms Kumulchew has turned out to be a particularly compelling Claimant, and has undoubtedly received the sympathy of the nation for the ordeal she has been through.

In terms of the legalities of the situation, dyslexia can amount to a disability, under the Equality Act 2010, if it has a substantial adverse effect on an employee’s day to day activities and is likely to be long-term.

This case has highlighted the steps employers might need to take in relation to dyslexic employees. The British Dyslexia Association points out that appropriate policies need to be put in place to make sure there are measures to avoid discrimination in the recruitment process, the work environment, and colleague reactions.

Such adjustments are difficult to pinpoint outside a particular context, but would include encouraging staff to communicate any difficulties, giving them advance notice of tasks that may be challenging, and providing support in those tasks. Part of the problem here was that Ms Kumulchew’s honesty and abilities were doubted by Starbucks, and reactions along these lines also should be avoided.

A good starting point would be a good understanding of the impact the disability has on employee’s work, and we suggest that staff be asked to disclose any disabilities at an early stage in their employment so that any future potential issues can be addressed as soon as possible.

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Updates: For employers: Discrimination | Tribunals | For employees: Tribunals |

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