A mom in Wisconsin was surprised when a hair salon for children cancelled an appointment for her 4-year-old son. She believes it might have been because her son, Matthew, has Down syndrome.
Katlyn Oelke posted a photo of the controversial email she received from the owner on Facebook. In an interview with Dearly, Oelke said that she was upset the situation wasn’t handed differently and she felt the salon was discriminating against her child.
Owner Kathleen Curiale wrote in the email that the stylists were “not comfortable” performing the haircut on Matthew. Curiale suggested that the service was “not a good fit” and then recommended that Oelke find another salon.
When local television station Fox 6 interviewed Curiale to understand why she sent the email, she said that there had been a mistake in the online booking system. The booking system paired Matthew with a stylist who felt uncomfortable styling for “moving” children.
A hairstylist with the company, Justine Rossey, told Fox 6 that the concern was for the safety of the child:
“Basically, all that it was about is the stylist that was able to work with a child that’s moving, because we don’t want to injure anybody.”
After Oelke posted a screenshot of the email on Facebook, the picture was shared more than 400 times. Hundreds of people also gave the salon one-star reviews for its handling of the incident.Katlyn Oelke
Dearly reached out to the company for a statement, but an official statement had not yet been issued. A spokesperson for the company said the incident was a “misunderstanding” and it had been resolved.
However, Oelke told Dearly that the owner called her to explain the “safety issue,” but she questioned the explanation given by the company:
“The salon is trying to turn it around and say that the reason [Matthew’s] appointment was cancelled was because the girl who cut his hair in the past was not working that day. However, not once did she mention that in the email or ask to reschedule. She just said that her stylists are not comfortable servicing my child and that I would need to seek other salons for his services. She said it was nothing personal but that he just wasn’t a good fit for her stylists. But it’s a kids salon, so how is he not a good fit? He’s a child.
Then she tried saying it was a safety concern. But, if it was a safety concern, why wasn’t that brought to my attention long ago? We’ve been going there for almost two years and not once was that ever brought up. She’s just backpedaling now trying to cover herself since this blew up. She was clearly discriminating against my son with Down syndrome.”
Oelke noted that Matthew is nonverbal and gets nervous while getting his hair cut, but it had never come up as an issue before:
“He is a little wiggly in the chair, and sheds some tears, yes. He has been through a lot in his little life, so any doctor appointment or haircut scares him.”
On social media, some people argued that the salon had the right to refuse service. One woman wrote on Facebook:
Huge props to this place for putting the safety of a disabled child above public opinion. Clearly, the stylist and owner have cut his hair before and decided his behavior made it a safety hazard. Better to say no to cutting his hair than to have a kid who can’t sit still and accidentally poke an eye out or cut an ear off and be sued for everything you own.
But Oelke told Dearly that she’s seen many “moving” children at the establishment.Katlyn Oelke
She wants to know why her child was singled out:
“If they have the right to refuse service, then why don’t they refuse service to ‘typical’ kids that I’ve seen in their salon that are moving around and crying?”
According to the Daily Dot, the lines between discrimination and right to refuse service are often blurry. Legally, business owners have the right to refuse service on the following grounds if the customer is involved in one of the following activities:
- Causing a scene.
- Threatening an employee.
- Breaking health rules.
- Not following lawful rules of the establishment.
- Requesting service when the business is closed.
- Asking for service that would be more than capacity.
Companies cannot refuse service on the basis of age, sex, nationality, disability or religion. The Americans with Disabilities Act as well as other state and federal laws protect the rights of people with disabilities to allow for equal opportunities.
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that is caused by extra material for chromosome 21. The U.S. Library of Medicine reports that Down syndrome is associated with “intellectual disability, a characteristic facial appearance and weak muscle tone.”
National Down Syndrome Society estimates that 6,000 children with Down syndrome are born every year.
Oelke said that she’s been overwhelmed with the positive response she’s received on social media for sharing her story. She’s looking to take her business elsewhere, but she says she’s proud she took the opportunity to be a voice for her family: “Anything is worth it for my son!”