YUKON — A Yukon mother says her son was discriminated against Tuesday when she and a group of homeschoolers were asked to leave a Pizza Hut restaurant in Muskogee.
Candi Smithson's 2-year-old son, Preston, has severe food allergies.
Celiac disease prevents him from eating anything containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Preston also is allergic to certain milk proteins, making things like butter and other dairy products hazardous to his health.
The group was in Muskogee on Tuesday to see replicas of the Niña and Pinta ships, which have been cruising the Arkansas River in recent weeks.
While in town, Smithson, another parent and four children, including Preston, stopped at Pizza Hut to have lunch.
“I had brought in a hamburger from McDonald's and some french fries,” she said. “About the only thing Preston can eat is the patty because McDonald's doesn't use fillers.”
But before her group could order, Smithson said a waitress informed her that the McDonald's items had to go.
“I explained why I was bringing in the food, but she said it didn't matter,” Smithson said.
“So, then I asked to speak to the manager.”
The manager, who couldn't be reached for comment on this story, wasn't sympathetic to the mother's situation.
“He basically said, ‘We can't have this food in here, so we're going to have to ask you to leave,'” Smithson said. “I was really shocked ... we bring food into restaurants all the time, and this has never happened before.”
Calls to Pizza Hut's corporate offices seeking comment on this story weren't returned.
Rights may have been violated
Smithson said the incident was much more than an inconvenience. She said it violated her son's rights as a person living with a disability.
The mother claims food allergies that interfere with “major life activities” are considered disabilities.
Marca Bristo, who helped craft the original Americans with Disabilities Act during the late 1980s, agrees with Smithson.
She served as chairman of the National Council on Disability, a position she was appointed to by former President Bill Clinton.
“I do think she is right to challenge this,” Bristo said of the mother's ordeal. “The law's not black and white, but if a food allergy affects life activities, it's got to be considered a disability and should fall under the act.”
Bristo said the Americans with Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990, was amended in 2008 to broaden what are considered “major life activities.” She said the changes were necessary because “the courts had narrowed the definition of the law” up to that point.
Eating is listed as major life activity in the amended act, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2009.
“I believe her situation is covered,” Bristo said. “But that is just my opinion.”
No plans to sue
Smithson said she has no plans to sue Pizza Hut over what occurred Tuesday. She said she just wants to make sure her son gets a fair shot at living a normal life.
“He's got enough to worry about,” she said. “He's only 2, but he realizes he's not eating the same things we are.
“I just don't think it's right to make him feel that way ... to make him feel like he can't even eat with his own family.”
Smithson said Pizza Hut had no signs indicating a no-outside-food policy, and added that the restaurant lost out on five paying customers by demanding the hamburger and fries be discarded.
“I just want the policies changed,” she said. “That way, when he gets older, he won't have to deal with things like this.”