I worked in a restaurant for almost a decade, and trust me when I say that I know offensive things are said and said often. For one father of a toddler with special needs, the typical restaurant talk went too far. Bruce Casper, former employee at the Chili’s in the Pittsburgh Mills Mall, was fired for asking employees to stop using the offensive word “retarded.”
Working as a waitress and a bartender — and now “working” as a parent — has given me an unexpected gift: Both waitressing and parenting have exposed me to a wide range of people I would have never met before. It has taught me that, even though I’m living in a world built by my own experiences and opinions, there are plenty of other people out there living lives different from my own. In short, it’s not always about me. I’m entitled to my own opinion, but that doesn’t always make it right.
Perfect example: According to Casper’s fiancée Crista Miller, who also happens to be the mother of his three children including a 16-month-old boy named Kyron with Down syndrome, Casper was unjustly fired from Chili’s. Casper dared to complain to management over the weekend about fellow employees using offensive language. Miller posted to Facebook that Casper was allegedly called a “retard” by two female Chili’s coworkers.
As Miller explained in her Facebook post, Casper continually asked that management and employees stop using the offensive word “retarded,” for obvious reasons. Casper explains, “Bruce has brought the use of this word up time and time again even requesting a meeting regarding it, NOTHING was done. Yesterday he was called a retard AGAIN in front of management and when he made it clear to everyone near that our son has Down Syndrome and he will not tolerate that word management said, ‘you can leave then’ so he did.”
Miller claims Chili’s managers have casually used the word “retarded” in conversation, calling it inappropriate and wrong in regard to all children with special needs. In response, Chili’s Restaurants released a prepared statement that said, “This is certainly not the behavior we condone in our restaurants, and we take allegations like this very seriously and we are investigating.”
After being fired, Casper was offered another position at a different Chili’s, but understandably, he does not feel comfortable continuing to work for the company.
I can almost hear the response from Casper’s coworkers as this story hits the news. “What’s the big deal? It’s just one word. Lighten up. We didn’t mean it offensively.” Miller and Casper have every right to make a big issue out of the use of this word, especially since it hits so close to home for their family.
Sure, we could all lighten up and overlook the “r-word” because it’s “not a big deal.” But it’s really these subtleties that can be so damaging when we turn a blind eye to them. “Retarded” is a slang term that should have gone out with the ’90s. Nowadays, it is a derogatory term that is offensive to a large group of people. This isn’t a case of telling people what they can and can’t say: This story presents an opportunity for all of us to open our eyes and think about how even the smallest words we say can hurt other people. Remember, it isn’t all about us.