We’re all misfits
I found more proof last week that the corporate world still has a long way to go in understanding autism. The lack of intuition cost Abercrombie and Fitch over $115,000. Abercrombie was fined this summer (the results weren’t published until last week) for not allowing the sister of an autistic teenage girl to help try out clothes for the autistic female at its Mall of America location.
Abercrombie’s store policy only allows one person in dressing rooms at a time as a means to prevent shoplifting, but Molly Maxson, who was 14 when the incident occurred in 2005. Molly’s autism appears to be more severe than most (and certainly mine) as the article reports her sister saying Molly always had a close eye on her because of her emotional vulnerabilities. Abercrombie continued to refuse entry even after Molly’s sister and mother both explained Molly’s autism. The company then denied that Molly had a disability until the first day of hearings in the case and the judge hearing the case found that Abercrombie interpreted disability rules only for people with visible handicaps. In its resistance, Abercrombie subjected Molly to an interview with a forensic psychologist, who Molly told she was a misfit at the store. A clerk at another store consented with Brittany (the older sister) immediately after she revealed Molly’s autism.
Abercrombie has a history of social problems, targeted over several racial discrimination lawsuits. Unfortunately for them, they turned a blind eye to mental disabilities as well. While the settlement will help Molly’s family cover legal costs and other undeserved penalties, the store could have saved their own hide had they simply admitted making a mistake. By continuing to resist, they only dug themselves a deeper hole. Given their reduction in sales for refusing to lower prices of their clothing, the short-term future doesn’t bode well as the economy undergoes a lethargic recovery stage.
What’s important to note is the year the incident originally took place. Not much mainstream focus was given to autism in 2005; that took place the following year after Jason McElwain’s athletic achievement. However, the fact another store consented to the Maxsons suggest people knew about autism and its effects back then. Unfortunately, this problem will likely persist as the autistic population grows. As the judge’s ruling indicated, there’s still an opinion among some that invisible handicaps aren’t the same as visible impairments. The statement is technically correct, but any disability that interferes with a human’s physical or mental capabilities is still a disability.