Children ‘vindicated,’ but at ‘huge personal cost’ after peanut allergy settlement
A parent who alleged that her child was discriminated against for having a peanut allergy said she feels vindicated by a recent settlement reached between the US attorney’s office and the youth theater company her son once attempted to join.
The US attorney’s office said Monday that the settlement with Young Shakespeare Players East resolved allegations that the theater group had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by “failing to provide reasonable modifications” for the boy and “retaliating against another child” in the program who advocated on his behalf.
According to the settlement signed this month, the US attorney’s office determined that the theater company “effectively excluded” Ali Wicks-Lim’s son from participating in the company prior to its presentation of “The Tempest” in 2015 and then excluded his friend who tried to stick up for him.
Wicks-Lim, who lives in Montague, described the settlement as “a vindication for the children.”
“However, that vindication of the right to inclusion came at a huge personal cost to our children and families,” she said, in an e-mailed statement.
Under the terms of the settlement, Young Shakespeare Players East will implement a disability nondiscrimination policy, conduct training, and implement a process by which reasonable modifications for participants will be considered and provided, according to the press release from the US attorney’s office.
“We are relieved that the facts prevailed and that the DOJ is addressing YSPE’s discriminatory practices,” Wicks-Lim said in the e-mailed statement. “This is an excellent step in the right direction.”
The US attorney’s office determined that the theater company, which serves children ages 7 to 18, discriminated against a child with a peanut allergy “by failing to make reasonable modifications to its policies, practices, or procedures to permit the child to safely participate in the theater company’s programs,” the press release said. “When a second child advocated on behalf of the child with a disability, that child was excluded from participating at YSPE.”
Following the US attorney’s announcement Monday, Young Shakespeare Players East put out a press release stating that it “vigorously contests the allegations” and described itself as “an organization with an unsurpassed record of accommodating young persons with disabilities.”
In that same press release, the theater company’s founder and director, Suzanne Rubinstein, said the YSPE “believes strongly in the values and principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
“I don’t know of another organization our size that has done more than YSPE to embody these values in real-life programs and performances,” she said in the e-mailed statement. “Inclusion is a fundamental part of who we are and what we do. Young actors with disabilities — from dyslexia, to autism, from learning disabilities and social anxiety to allergies — have participated and performed in YSPE productions alongside their fellow cast members who do not have disabilities.”
However, Wicks-Lim disputed those statements from the theater company and alleged that “rather than welcoming children with disabilities,” Rubinstein once considered shutting the program down rather than allowing her son to join.
Wicks-Lim’s attorney Mary Vargas said Wicks-Lim’s son and his friend currently have complaints pending with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.