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Man With Down Syndrome Sues Family Dollar After Being Forced to Leave Store

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John F. Garcia, a 50-year-old man with Down syndrome, is suing Family Dollar Stores of Colorado after he and a group of developmentally disabled adults were repeatedly asked to leave the Pueblo, Colorado, branch of the discount retail chain.

On September 17, 2014, Garcia and a group of other developmentally disabled adults went to their local Family Dollar store with Lisa Pacheco, an employee of Jordan Residential & Vocational Services, Inc., a care center for adults with developmental disabilities. Pacheco takes them on weekly outings to help build confidence and independence.

According to the lawsuit, as the group entered the store, its manager, Valerie McWilliams, put her hand over her mouth and exclaimed loudly in front of all of the other customers: “Oh no, you’re not coming in here are you? You can’t come in! You can’t shop here!”

McWilliams continued to insist the group leave, telling Pacheco, “You’re taking this all wrong, I’m the only one working right now.” After continued protests from McWilliams, Pacheco led the others out of the store.

Upon exiting the store, many in the group were confused as to what they were doing wrong and why they were being shouted at. Other members of the group left the store crying. According the lawsuit, after the incident:

Mr. Garcia repeatedly stated that he thought Ms. Pacheco was mad at him because he heard her raise her voice to McWilliams in the Family Dollar store. Although he generally did not make remarks about not being liked by other people before the incident at Family Dollar, since the incident, Mr. Garcia frequently states, “People at stores don’t like me.” Mr. Garcia also refuses to go back to Family Dollar and requires significant encouragement to go to another store to shop since the incident. On one occasion, Mr. Garcia saw an advertisement for Family Dollar in the newspaper and tore up the paper, clearly upset by his memory of the incident.

After the event, Pacheco was able to speak with the store’s district manager, Barry Shelton. Shelton stood by McWilliams’ actions, stating that the group should “think about coming in at a different time when [Family Dollar] had more help.”

Garcia, his guardian Phyllis Garcia and Pacheco are now asking the United States District Court for the District of Colorado find that Family Dollar Stores and its parent company, Dollar Tree, discriminated based on Garcia’s disability.

With more than 13,600 stores across 48 states, Family Dollar and Dollar Tree stores own the most discount retail stores in the U.S. and bring in over $19 billion per year. Since the stores are places of public accommodation, they are required to follow the Americans With Disabilities Act and are prohibited from discriminating against people with disabilities.

Other than conversations with Shelton, Family Dollar Tree has yet to comment on the case. One group member’s guardian also complained to Family Dollar, calling Shelton and submitting an online complaint, and has not heard back despite being told the issue had been brought to the corporate office’s attention.

The Mighty reached out for comment and was told by a representative of the retailer that the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Originally published: September 19, 2016
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