I Wish Food Allergy Related Discrimination Would Stop
Discrimination? Excluded because of a life threatening food allergy. Retaliation for advocating. Refusal to administer life-saving epinephrine.
Update: According to Allergic Living magazine, “in a June 10 “letter of finding,” the Justice Department says Mason Wicks-Lim, 11, faced discrimination on the basis of disability, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), when the Young Shakespeare Players East (YSPE) of Massachusetts refused to alter practices to afford him the same access as other children to participate in the program.” Read the rest of article, as well as Mary’s guest blog on FARE. Camp Emerson also honored Mason for being courageous. I still continue to wish food allergy related discrimination would stop and I hope that we can continue to support each other in the food allergy community. There is strength in numbers. <3 ~Sharon
These are examples of scenarios that happen over and over again to people with food allergies everywhere. My family and I have experienced similar situations and it’s disappointing, stressful, and painful to feel so rejected. I wish food allergy related discrimination would stop.
How far that little candle throws his beams!
So shines a good deed in a naughty world.
-William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice
My friend, Mary Vargas, shared with me a press release about a lawsuit that she and Laurel Francoeur are working on together. The quote by Shakespeare above is a fitting and clever introduction to their clients’ lawsuit against Young Shakespeare Players and Young Shakespeare Players East (YSP). The story tugged at my food allergy mama bear heart especially when I read Mason’s statement,
It’s a really bad experience to be excluded because of my allergy, but I’ve also learned that it’s not that there’s something wrong with me. There is something wrong with discriminating against me. -Mason
Some of the reasons for the lawsuit caught my attention.
- A 10 year old boy, Mason, wanted to participate in a theater program but was not allowed due to his food allergies.
- His friend Sam, a 12 year old girl, advocated for Mason and was told that she needed to apologize for advocating for her friend in order to re-enroll in the program.
- The theater program required Mason’s parents to attend all the rehearsals as they refused to administer epinephrine in an emergency and threatened to shut down the entire program instead of accommodating him.
Kudos to Mason, Sam, and their families for being so courageous and strong to seek justice through their lawsuit. Having food allergies does not prevent anyone from acting or theater or doing anything that they wish. There are even famous celebrity chefs with food allergies. I hope that the lawsuit will strengthen the civil rights of people with life threatening allergies and result in greater awareness and willingness to accommodate children with food allergies in recreational programs. There is no cure for food allergies but people with life threatening food allergies can have a wonderful life with a little bit of support and understanding from people around them. I share this story in hopes of shining light into an issue that needs more love, more compassion, and more empathy from others.
How can you help?
November 3, 2015
FEDERAL AND STATE COMPLAINTS LODGED AGAINST YOUNG SHAKESPEARE PLAYERS AND YOUNG SHAKESPEARE PLAYERS EAST
Turners Falls, MA – Two children today asked the federal and state governments to open investigations of a Shakespearean theater program that barred them from participation because of disability. In complaints filed with the United States Department of Justice and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, ten year old Mason Wicks-Lim alleges that the Young Shakespeare Players and the Young Shakespeare Players East (“YSP”) discriminated against him on the basis of disability when YSP refused to allow him to participate because of his food allergies, threatened to close the entire program if he enrolled, and refused to administer epinephrine in the event of an allergic reaction. His friend, twelve year old Sam Picone-Louro, alleges that when she sent an email to YSP’s director, Suzanne Rubinstein, asking that Mason be allowed to participate and telling the program that it would be discrimination to exclude her friend, Rubinstein retaliated by barring her from participation in the program, unless she issued a formal apology acknowledging that is was “wrong” to advocate for her friend.
Young Shakespeare Players and Young Shakespeare Players East (“YSP”) are places of public accommodation and therefore cannot deny participation on the basis of disability or retaliate against those who advocate for nondiscrimination, the complaints charge. Both the Americans with Disabilities Act and state law prohibit denying children access to educational and recreational programming on the basis of disability.
Explaining why he is seeking investigation of YSP, Mason says, “I wish YSP had done the right thing, but since it didn’t, I want to focus on making these kinds of things right for other people who have disabilities. It’s a really bad experience to be excluded because of my allergy, but I’ve also learned that it’s not that there’s something wrong with me. There is something wrong with discriminating against me.”
Ali Wicks-Lim, Mason’s mother, commented, “It is incredibly painful to look your child in the eye and tell him he is unwelcome somewhere because of a disability he can’t do anything about,” said Mason’s mother, Ali Wicks-Lim. “Our child is having to watch his friends and his community participate in excitement around a theater production that he desperately wanted to be a part of, but was kept from by his disability. It is a painful lesson in privilege for anyone, but for a ten-year-old it feels especially overwhelming.”
Natalie Picone-Louro, Sam’s mother, is proud of her daughter’s courage in standing up for the rights of others even though it lost Sam the opportunity to participate in something that was important to her. Picone-Louro said, “Sam found her family at YSP. What she loved and put her whole heart into was taken away from her because she stood up for someone who wanted to be part of that community.” Picone-Louro added, “Sam’s courage and strength, and the lens she speaks from is what we as parents want to preserve in her. It is important to have these qualities as a young woman in our culture.” Sam added, “I am disappointed with how YSP handled the situation. I miss my friends and acting in YSP, but I don’t regret standing up for Mason. Being in a program that discriminates against anyone is not acceptable.”
“YSP claims that it has never turned a child away because of cost and that everyone is welcome but here they have turned two children away because of disability – two children who are everything we want kids to be – loyal, earnest, and brave,” said lawyer Mary Vargas. Francoeur commented, “In seeking access to YSP, Mason and Sam are giving voice to the many kids with food allergies who have been wrongly excluded in violation of established law.”
Mason and Sam are represented by Stein & Vargas, LLP and the Francoeur Law Office. Stein & Vargas, LLP is a civil rights firm committed to the principle that all people have full and equal access to all parts of society. Stein & Vargas, LLP has a special interest in preserving the rights of individuals with food allergies. Francoeur Law Office is a general law practice with a focus on food allergy-related issues.
Stein & Vargas, LLP
Mary C. Vargas
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