WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The general manager of the Independence Mall is reacting to allegations of discrimination at one of the salons located within the mall.
The family of a woman from Wilmington says that she was the victim of discrimination after Lee Nail Salon reportedly tried to charge the 86-year-old an extra fee because she is in a wheelchair.
In a statement, Helen Lewis, the GM of the mall, wrote:
"We regret that a member of our community had an unpleasant experience while visiting an Independence Mall retailer. Retail landlords do not have the ability to control individual tenant policies and procedures, but we do expect them to comply with state and federal laws. We are also bound and confined by our lease provisions and tenant laws as set forth by the state of North Carolina when dealing with tenants, and have taken every action allowed to us under those provisions to address the situation."
Earlier this week, Ilse Rosenberg, a Holocaust survivor, was with her caregiver, Melissa Padgett, who took her to Lee Nails for a manicure and pedicure.
"After she gets her feet in the chair and she's comfortable and her feet are in the water, he [an employee at the salon] said because she is in a wheelchair and it's an inconvenience of her being transferred in the chair, it is a $30 dollar up charge," said Padgett.
But Padgett, who is a CNA, said she had already transferred Rosenberg into the salon chair.
Still, she says that the salon manager told her to leave if she didn't want to pay the extra fee.
"I went back to Ilse, and at this point, I'm crying because I'm humiliated," she said. "When I saw her face, and I had to tell her we had to leave or pay an up charge, it broke my heart."
Rosenberg's family is outraged by what happened.
"She's only in a wheelchair because of her age, and she's been through a lot," said Ilse's son, Robert Rosenberg. "And she loves life, and it's very disappointing to find that this nail salon treated her so badly. It's discrimination."
"She went there to have her nails done and to feel beautiful and walked away humiliated," said Ilse's daughter-in-law, Charlotte. "That's just wrong."
On the phone, salon employees told WECT that they charge an extra $30 for those in wheelchairs because "it takes more time" for their workers to give them manicures and pedicures.
However, when we went to the salon to try to talk to the manager or owner on camera, we were escorted out of the business and out of the mall by security officers.
Now, her family is asking the community to boycott the business.
They filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau.
BBB officials said if the salon is charging more for those in wheelchairs, they are violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination based on disability.
The family also complained to the North Carolina Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division.
A representative from that office said they have forwarded the family's complaint to the US Department of Justice, which handles investigations into ADA violations.
Independence Mall posted this statement on its Facebook page:
"Dear Friends, we have been made aware of a potential situation at Independence Mall where a valued customer may have received sub-par treatment. Our first concern is the safety and enjoyable experience that all of our customers have at our center, and we are looking into this reported incident. That said, all of the merchants at Independence Mall establish their own individual policies, and we encourage them to adhere to best practices in all situations."
The Disability Resource Center, a local non-profit that helps and fights for equal treatment for disabled people in our community, investigated this case.
The center's director, Gloria Garton, said she also called the nail salon to inquire about what happened. She said they also admitted to her that they charge more for people in wheelchairs.
Given their willingness to talk openly about this, Garton thinks it's likely that others have paid this extra fee but didn't think anything was wrong with it or were too humiliated to say anything.
She hopes other businesses learn from what happened.
"We hope that for the business's sake, it's a learning experience for them and it doesn't get duplicated anywhere else and that other businesses realize you just can't do this kind of thing to people," Garton said.
If you think you have been the victim of discrimination under the ADA, you can email a complaint to email@example.com. The Disability Resource Center can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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