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"Confetti Skin, Beauty Within" is our blog about ichthyosis and its effect on our lives. Rachel and our three boys are affected with the form of ichthyosis called "icthyosis en confetti, type 2".

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Golden Corral Restaurant in Michigan Sued After Kicking Out Family With EB

Last week, on February 20, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against a Golden Corral restaurant near Detroit, Michigan. The complaint alleges that the restaurant discriminated against a family with three daughters who have epidermolysis bullosa.

According  to the Department of Justice’s complaint, the mother, Danielle Duford, and her four daughters went to the Golden Corral restaurant, paid for their buffet, and, shortly after they were seated, the manager, David Robinson, approached their table and asked the mom, “What is wrong with your baby?”

Now, usually when dealing with “drive by” questions about our own family’s skin disorder, we can get a pretty good sense of how (badly) the conversation is going to go by the way it starts. So we know that “What’s wrong with your  baby” is probably one of the harsher ways to start that conversation. It’s certainly a question Jennifer and I have fielded several times, and my own reaction to being asked “What’s wrong with your hands?” has changed throughout my life.

In any event, according to the lawsuit, when the mom explained that her baby had epidermolysis bullosa and that there was nothing “wrong” with her, the manager replied, “she has scabs all over, so obviously there is something wrong with her” and further asserted that the restaurant had “a right to ask what’s wrong if it concerns our customers and is contagious.”

Even though the mom again told the manager that EB is not contagious, the manger immediately told her to leave and “go find somewhere else to eat” because their presence was apparently making other customers “uncomfortable.” The family left (very upset), but not before one of their friends who was planning on joining them for dinner arrived and began complaining about what just happened. The manager attempted to eject him, too, and called the police when he refused to leave. (The police didn’t make any arrests.)

Barbara L. McQuade, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said in her press release about the filing of the lawsuit, “The promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act is that disabled citizens should have full access to public life. We hope that this lawsuit will assist in expanding people’s understanding of the range of disabilities and the obligations to treat all disabled citizens fairly under the law.”

Under the Americans With Disability Act, public accommodations such as restaurants cannot discriminate against people with disabilities or people they perceive to have disabilities.

Epidermolysis bullosa, like ichthyosis, has varying levels of severity from family-to-family. And like ichthyosis, the most severe cases of EB are the ones that have drawn the most publicity. DebRA, the Dystrophic Epidermolysis Bullosa Research Association of America, provides support and information about EB (and funds research), very similar to what FIRST does with and for ichthyosis. Two of our boys are friends with several children with EB, who attended Camp Wonder with them. Debra’s “Understanding EB” page is an excellent starting point for people looking to learn more about EB.

Here are a couple legal-related musings:

(1) The incident that prompted the lawsuit occurred in May 2011 and was filed by the Department of Justice (and not the affected family). So this lawsuit has a lot more weight than a private lawyer out for a quick settlement on a “hot coffee” lawsuit. It’s also  reasonable to assume that as part of the investigation-and-complaint process, the Department of Justice contacted the restaurant and attempted to resolve the issue before filing a lawsuit. One can infer from the filing of the complaint and the issuance of the press release that the parties were unable to resolve things outside of the court system.

(2) Golden Corral is a franchise restaurant, and the lawsuit was filed against the individual company that runs the Golden Corral restaurant in Westland, Michigan, and its two owners of that company. It’s unclear how much influence (if any) the Golden Corral franchisor has with its individual franchisees and lawsuits in general, or this lawsuit in particular, so so advocacy efforts, such as a boycott targeted at Golden Corral in general, might not accomplish a lot. It is pretty unlikely that this sort of behavior is a franchise policy and much more likely that it’s an individual store or chain of stores with the same owner where the problem exists.

This story has been picked up by the Huffington Post and elsewhere on the net. A few months ago, I tilted at windmills when writing about (and attempting to respond to) knuckleheaded comments about harlequin ichthyosis on Facebook. Many of the comments to the stories I linked above are enough to cause me shake my head and wonder. (There’s some pretty nasty stuff in there.) Right now, I don’t have the energy to wade into any of that.

In any event, seeing as how I appear to be uniquely situated to provide color commentary on this lawsuit (given that whole lawyer thing), I’ll be following it and will blog about it as opportunities arise.

UPDATE 2/27/13: I have written up some quick thoughts about the underlying law.

UPDATE 5/8/13: The lawsuit has settled.

10 comments to Golden Corral Restaurant in Michigan Sued After Kicking Out Family With EB

  • Mars Girl

    Disgraceful. People are so ignorant.

  • Meshell Boydsston

    This is so sad. As some of you may know this happened to Rose at Ghangis Grill.

  • Edwin White

    Some people are clueless ,, insensitivity at it’s worst. I have a temper and I know I would have lost it if my 2 LI affected kids had been verbally assaulted in anything close to that manner. God gives those situations to those who have the inner peace to handle such things with grace and class. My prayers to the family and all of us going thru these type of events on a daily basis.

  • Courtney

    This hasnt happened to us thank goodness, but i think this would be a situation where a little business sized card with basic info would be helpful to give te manager and even a few of them so he/she can pass along to the diners who may have spoken to him/her.

  • Mars Girl

    It just sounds like this manager was an ass and no matter what kind of information you provided him, the result would have been the same… The fact is, he was “grossed out” and he decided to act like a bully and an ignorant idiot.

  • Rachel

    Mars Girl, that may have been true back on the evening of the incident, but that could probably have been addressed through better understanding an apology. What I wonder is whether the owners are continuing to support their manager’s actions, and what arguments their lawyers are going to make that the manager’s actions weren’t discriminatory.

    We’ll see more when the restaurant and the owners file their response.

  • Courtney, FIRST offers a business-sized awareness card for people to hand out. You can see it here.
    Friends and members can order a supply for handing out to those who have questions.

  • Mars Girl


    Curiosity overwhelmed me and I looked at the comments on some of those articles… Ugh. 🙁 My response above was kind of a reaction to that. But from some of what the ignorant commenters have posted on that article, I am sure that a lot of people–maybe even that manager and the restaurant management–echo the same thoughts. They are probably pulling the whole line about having the right to protect their other patrons from “potentially hazardous health risks.” (Some of those stupid commenters were saying things like “skin dripping into the food.” I just cant believe how horrible people are to people who appear different… I totally lose faith in humanity when I read that stuff.)

    But, anyway, you are right… I’m really curious of the whole dialog that’s going on between the lawyers on both sides. The whole thing makes me sad.

  • Rachel

    Mars Girl, check out the update I just posted. I wonder if the letters from the lawyers were a polite form of, “Dude, have you actually READ the case law here?” Would be interesting to see…

  • Rhonda Cox

    We live in a most unkind society. Humans are some of the cruelest beings on the planet and we are supposed to be a superior race. Ignorance is not bliss. People, get educated before you blatantly insult or humiliate your fellow man. It is true that if we are different, we get put under the microscope for other peoples curiosity and sometimes that curiosity can be hurtful and humiliating. God don’t make no junk. Imagine if it was your child or someone you love.

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