Panera Bread apologizes to child with disabilities

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - The restaurant franchise Panera Bread formally apologizes to a local family after an employee asked their daughter to remove her squeaky orthopedic shoes because they were bothering a customer.

Corporate officials came in to apologize to two year old Emma Duke and her family after she was asked to remove her shoes at the Panera Bread on Abercorn Street last week.

Emma Duke's family is grateful that they can finally put all of this behind them.

"It was an unfortunate thing that happened and it's been upsetting our family for the past week and I believe it's been upsetting them as well," said Emma's mother Catherine Duke.

They were Panera regulars until this all happened but they finally returned when franchise officials wanted to apologize.

"They formally apologized to Emma for saying something about her shoes," said Duke.

Emma just learned to walk with the help of the orthopedic shoes and her mother says, Panera officials said the employee who made the comment was new on the job.

"I think this is something she didn't quite know how to handle with having customers complain about," said Duke.

Duke says not only are they apologizing but they want to throw a fundraiser for Emma to help with her medical bills.

"They want to help children with disabilities and this was just something that happened in their café and they are not proud of it," said Duke.

Panera Bread released a statement saying:

As you would expect, Panera Bread does not tolerate discrimination of any kind. The last thing we would want to do is make anyone feel unwelcome. Consistent with this system-wide policy, our franchisee met personally with Ms. Duke today to directly hear and address the concerns she has raised. We understand from our franchisee that Ms. Duke has been assured that she and her family are always welcome at Panera and her concerns have been addressed.

All associates at this bakery-cafe will be receiving updated and ongoing customer relations training.

A fund has been set up to help the Duke family with Emma's medical expenses. Donations can be made at any Navy Federal Credit Union to the Emma Duke fund in Savannah. Be sure to specify you want to donate to the Savannah fund.

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