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KFC has agreed to pay $30,000 to the family of a girl with facial scars who was asked to leave one of its Mississippi restaurants because her injuries "disturbed other patrons."
Victoria Wilcher, 3, was attacked by pit bulls in April, and her recovery has left her with an eyepatch and numerous scars across her face. After the Wilchers shared their story on social media -- of being kicked out of a KFC in Jackson, Mississippi, last week -- KFC responded by donating $30,000 to "assist with her medical bills."
Did KFC respond properly to this incident?
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Was It Legal to Deny Service?
Like most businesses, KFC's many locations can legally reserve the right to refuse service to any patron for a variety of reasons. Public accommodation laws prevent private businesses which are open to the public from refusing service to customers based on race, religion, or national origin, but appearance is not so simple.
It may have been legal for the Jackson KFC to deny service to Victoria or her family if they had been sporting tattoos, but Victoria was clearly displaying scars as the result of an attack. As sad as it sounds, most cities and states do not have laws preventing businesses from discriminating based on physical appearance or attractiveness. Only a few jurisdictions have prohibited small businesses from discriminating based on height, weight, or physical characteristics.
Since neither the city of Jackson nor the state of Mississippi have barred this sort of discrimination, it is possible for businesses to refuse service to people who are unpleasant to view. Businesses are, however, prevented from refusing service to persons based on a disability, which can sometimes cover facial disfigurement like Victoria's.
PR and Investigation
The AP reports that KFC has apologized for the actions of the Jackson location and have begun investigating the incident. Another Mississippi KFC franchisee, Dick West, has offered to throw the Wilchers "a big KFC picnic" and personally vouched for the Jackson restaurant's owners.
Your business may also want to be quick to begin investigating complaints of discrimination, not only as a public relations tool, but also to minimize liability for lawsuits. The Wilchers may have a righteous disability discrimination claim as a result of their treatment, but KFC can attempt to distance itself by:
KFC may want to move quickly in Victoria's case; the chain made headlines just last year for denying service to a disabled vet.