A mother left a Panera Bread in tears during the first week of the new year after an employee asked her to remove her disabled toddler's squeaking shoes, which were apparently "bothering someone."
"We weren't welcome with the shoes. It was very blatant," Catherine Duke told WTOC-TV of her daughter's prescription orthopedics.
Even after explaining to the assistant manager that the shoes were required by her 2-year-old daughter's doctor in order to help her walk, the mother was asked to remove them.
Catherine Duke was asked two weeks ago to remove her daughter's orthopedic shoes that squeak after someone complained. (Image source: WTOC-TV)
"It was very hurtful, and I left the store crying, not a very good thing for a mom to feel like her child is being discriminated against," the mother told the news station.
After repeated attempts to contact Panera Bread's corporate office for comment, WTOC was informed just this past weekend that the Duke family had received a formal apology.
"They formally apologized to Emma for saying something about her shoes," Duke told the news station.
The Duke family credits the shoes with helping disabled Emma just learn to walk. (Image source: WTOC-TV)
In a statement, Panera Bread said "the last thing we would want to do is make anyone feel unwelcome." A franchisee met personally with Duke and told her "that she and her family are always welcome at Panera and her concerns have been addressed," the statement read.
Watch WTOC-TV's report:
Duke also told the news station that she learned the assistant manager who approached her about the shoes was new to her position.
"I don't think she quite knew how to handle customers complaining about it," Duke said.
WTOC reported that Panera Bread also wants to throw a fundraiser to help the Dukes with Emma's medical bills.
"They're very for children," Duke said. "This is just one of those things that happened in one of their cafes that they're not proud of it."