Robert Friedman went to his local Starbucks in Boca Raton and ordered a coffee. He sat at a table and began swearing loudly while punching the wall with his fist. Alarmed by this behavior, the baristas called the cops and had Friedman removed. They asked that he not return to the store or he would be arrested for trespassing. End of story?
Not quite. Friedman suffers from Tourette's Syndrome, which leads to uncontrollable actions in his body and, on rare occasions, a stream of obscenities. Friedman, in other words, suffers from a recognized disability.
In its initial review of the case, the Florida Commission on Discrimination ruled in Starbuck's favor, determining that the baristas had no way of knowing that Friedman was disabled. The commission's own lawyer, however, over-ruled the investigators and found that Friedman had been a regular customer and was thus known to the baristas as a disabled person. As his behavior did not constitute an immediate threat to Starbucks staff or customers, the store had an obligation to accommodate him.
Ah, there's the rub. How exactly do you accommodate an individual who is swearing loudly and smashing walls with his fist? The commission wanted Starbucks to at least ask Friedman to stop behaving in an unruly manner before calling the cops. The commission noted that Friedman did offer an apology at the time of incident, before the police removed him from the premises.
Starbucks disagrees with the commission's findings and believes that its personnel took appropriate action to remove a disruptive customer from the store.
Outside the Comfort Zone
It is easy, perhaps too easy, to side with Starbucks in this situation. It's difficult enough to run a coffee house without worrying about accommodating unruly customers. But before you allow your distaste for bad behavior to slam the door in Friedman's tormented face, take a moment to view this video of children who suffer from Tourette's. They are victims of a cruel and random process that robs them of their dignity and compromises their ability to function in a challenging world. They deserve our sympathy.
As for Friedman, it is admittedly difficult to empathize with an adult who appears simply to behave badly. If we met him as a stranger, we would distance ourselves immediately. But once we know the source of his disruptive actions, he deserves at least a chance to re-establish his tenuous equilibrium. Tourette's puts us all outside our comfort zones - not necessarily a bad place to be. Friedman has to live with this problem every waking moment of his life; he has few, if any, comfort zones. We can accommodate Friedman for a few random moments, while enloying our lattes or going about the many tasks that comprise our hectic days. If nothing else, Friedman's situation reminds us that it is a great gift to be masters of our movements and of our words.