Restaurant responds to viral video of family kicked out
Family with autistic son says they were asked to leave; owners disagree
WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. (WISC) — A video out of a Wisconsin Dells restaurant has gone viral this week, racking up more than 100,000 views, after a family with an autistic son claims they were kicked out.
The video shows the manager of Marley’s Club and James Mulwa, father of 10-year-old Silas, exchanging words in the parking lot of the Dells restaurant. While Mulwa and mom Jennifer Beavers said they were asked to leave the restaurant because of a dispute about outside food being brought in. Marley’s owners said that’s not what happened.
Silas’s parents said he was born with severe autism. He rarely eats anything, forcing Mom and Dad to feed him through a stomach tube. The only thing he will eat on his own are McDonald’s French fries, his mom said.
“[That’s] the only thing you’re guaranteed,” she said.
That’s why the Missouri family, on vacation in Wisconsin Dells, brought along a bag of McD’s fries with them into Marley’s Club, where the rest of the family wanted to eat — but bar owners asked them to leave the food outside.
The family said they complied but were still asked to leave. Owners Marci and Jeff said there’s more to the story.
“She said she had a special needs child, and I said, ‘It’s still our policy, is there anything we can do to accommodate you,'” Marci said. “He wanted French fries, we have French fries.
“It’s always been our policy that you can’t allow outside food in here.”
Neither Marci nor Jeff deny asking the family to remove the McDonald’s food. But they said while mom Jennifer left to put the fries bag in her car, Silas’s father caused a disturbance inside the restaurant. Marci and Jeff said it’s James Mulwa’s words, not the French fries, that spurred them to kick the family out.
“I felt threatened for the business, and for our employees, and therefore asked him to leave,” Marci said.
“That’s not who we are,” Jeff said. “We had people who come in here all the time with disabilities and we welcome them. We’ll do anything to accommodate them.”
So who is in the wrong?
There is a federal law that may offer some insight.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires restaurants to make reasonable accommodations for customers with disabilities. For example, a retailer who typically only allows one person per dressing room must allow two or more people if it better accommodates a person with disabilities. That’s considered a reasonable modification to the protocol.
Where does the ADA come into play in the case of Marley’s?
“It would have to be an undue burden upon them or substantially alter the nature of their business to allow someone to bring their food in,” Dave Medaris, a disability research specialist with Madison College, said.
Owners Marci and Jeff said they tried to be accommodating by offering their own French fries.
“I felt like I accommodated her,” Marci said. “She walked to her car to put the bag away. I felt like I did what I was supposed to.”
Mom Jennifer Beavers considered another form of accommodation.
“All I was asking is that they allow him to sit at the table and eat the only food that he will eat, and we were denied that,” she said.
James Mulwa wondered whether more autism education is needed for restaurants and other establishments.
“There’s ignorance,” he said. “People aren’t aware what people with disabilities are going through.”