Buffalo Wild Wings owner denies accusation of discrimination against group with developmental disabilities

Michelle Charles/Stillwater News Press Stillwater's Buffalo Wild Wings, located  at 1701 N Perkins Rd, is the center of discrimination accusations with management denies.

STILLWATER, Okla. — In what has turned into a he said/she said situation, the owner of a Stillwater restaurant and the caretaker for developmentally disabled adults who says her clients were denied service on Friday tell very different versions of events.

About the only thing they agree on is that it happened at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Harley White called the Stillwater News Press Friday afternoon to report that the manager of the popular local sports bar and restaurant had twice in one week refused to serve a group of developmentally disabled adults. She works as a caretaker for the group.

White says the party of six, which included caretakers and clients, was denied seating Thursday evening, although she wasn’t present when it happened.

The group eats lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings regularly and thought it must have been an unusual circumstance because the restaurant was full following Oklahoma State University’s televised bowl game, she said. So they returned the next day at lunchtime.

White says her supervisor went ahead of the group to arrange for a table and was told they couldn’t be seated. After he returned to the parking lot, she went in to speak with the manager.

She said the manager told her the group has special needs the restaurant can’t meet so they wouldn’t be served.

White says that doesn’t make sense to her because the group doesn’t use equipment like wheelchairs or walkers and doesn’t require any special accommodations.

“We sit in one booth,” White said. “The waitress might have to bring drink refills more often because our guys guzzle their drinks but the restaurant doesn’t have to do anything special.”

Jeromy Howard is part of an Oklahoma City-based family group that has been operating Buffalo Wild Wings franchises in Oklahoma and Arkansas since 2003. They own and operate multiple stores in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas, as well as Muskogee, Bartlesville and Stillwater.

He says the incident didn’t happen as it’s being presented and his manager simply told the group they couldn’t sit at the specific booth they wanted.

Howard says the group comes in every few weeks, regularly enough for the staff to remember them, and requests a booth in the back corner of the restaurant near the patio door to avoid bothering other customers if the kids get up and run around.

When the group came in on Friday, they requested that booth and wanted to push a table up to the end of it, which would have blocked a door that opens to the patio, according to management.

He says blocking an exit is a violation of fire code and he believes the fire marshal could cite the restaurant for doing that.

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Buffalo Wild Wings owner denies accusation of discrimination against group with developmental disabilities

Michelle Charles/Stillwater News Press Buffalo Wild Wings owner Jeromy Howard said the group was wanting to pull a table up to this booth in the Stillwater restaurant, which would have blocked the exit and been against fire code.

The group was initially offered a different table and the manager thought they were coming back in to be seated when White walked in and confronted her, Howard said.

He says the manager told him White raised her voice and cursed at her.

Howard came to Stillwater on Saturday and reviewed security footage of the incident, which he showed the News Press. He says there is no footage that shows the group entering the restaurant on Thursday. The next most recent visit he could find was on Dec. 6, when they were split into two booths in the back corner.

The security footage shows the manager speaking with a male who gestures over his shoulder toward the dining room, she shakes her head “no” and appears to point to a seating chart on the host stand. They speak for another minute or so and the man walks out. White then enters, walking quickly and approaches the order pick-up counter. She begins speaking with the manager, gesturing in an animated way. The manager walks to the side and gets a business card and the two women continue talking for several more minutes. White continues to gesture as she speaks, then turns and leaves the restaurant.

When asked about the exchange, White said she was angry when she walked in to speak with the manager but she’s disappointed there wasn’t an audio recording of their confrontation.

White says she doesn’t think someone who treats people that way should have a job in customer service.

“People need to understand you can’t discriminate against anyone,” she said. “My clients were discriminated against for something that is 100 percent beyond their control. And that is not OK.”

Howard maintains that his manager and staff do not discriminate and watch videos on avoiding discrimination as part of their training.

Howard says he received a phone call from the restaurant within 10 minutes of the incident. He also received a message via the Buffalo Wild Wings website that referenced discrimination and said the media would be contacted if the person sending the message didn’t hear from someone within a specified amount of time. He says he immediately tried to call the number he was given but there was no answer.

About 30 minutes later, a television station called.

Howard says the restaurant’s staff has done its best to accommodate the group without violating safety regulations every time they have come in and has seated them in a variety of locations.

“Anywhere else in the restaurant we can accommodate them, just not in front of that door,” he said.

He believes people are jumping to unfair conclusions, based on social media commentary he has seen following a brief television news story.

“The whole situation is just sad. We’re not trying to discriminate against anybody. We don’t discriminate against anybody, either in hiring practices or with our guests,” Howard said. “Discrimination is something we take very seriously … We wouldn’t have been here for 14 years if we ran customers off.”

Howard says in spite of the controversy, the group is still welcome at Buffalo Wild Wings and he would love to speak with a representative from the organization that is responsible for the group, to work things out.

Twitter: @mcharlesNP

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