BY ABDON M. PALLASCH (external - login to view)

In a lifetime of using her feet the way most people use their hands, Dawn Larson never felt as discriminated against as she did at McDonald's, she said.

Born with Holt-Oram Syndrome, Larson has diminutive hands about six inches from her shoulder.
That has never stopped her from leading a productive life.
"I drank my baby bottle with my feet. Nobody ever taught me how to do it, I just did it," Larson said. "I can ride a regular 10-speed bike. I can swim. It has not been a problem in my life at all. It didn't stop me from having four boys. I've never dropped one of them."
On Nov. 3, Larson pulled up to the speaker at a McDonald's in Rockford and ordered food for her and her boys totaling $23.59. She drove to the first window and passed them her credit card, gripped with the toes of her left foot. The cashier took the card, processed her payment and handed the card back to her.
According to a lawsuit Larson filed against the restaurant's owner last week in Winnebago County, when Larson pulled up to the second window to get her food, an employee said "with a tone of disgust and repulsion," "What's the matter with you? . . . You ain't got no arms. ... Let me see your arms," and drew back the bags of food from Larson's outstretched foot. After making more allegedly rude statements, the employee closed the window and went to consult a manager, the suit states.
The manager appeared at the window and likewise stared in disgust at Larson while her children watched from their seats in the car, the suit states. Larson suggested that they hand the bags to her son, who has one full-size arm. He reached over and took them.
Larson later called a manager at McDonald's to complain and was told "corrective action has been taken" against the employees, the suit says. McDonald's sent her $10 in gift certificates.

'Oh, no, I'm not doing this'
On Feb. 15, Larson went to a different McDonald's in Rockford and the same thing happened, she alleges. The employee at the first window was happy to take her card from her foot, but the employee at the second window threw up her hands and said, "Oh, no, I'm not doing this," and closed the window, the suit states. The employee would not hand the bags to her son, either, the suit says. Larson asked her friend to enter the restaurant and get the food, and they would not give it to him. After several minutes, an employee came out and handed the food to the friend.
A company spokeswoman first told the Chicago Sun-Times, "Under no circumstance was this customer denied any service at any of our locations," then later e-mailed this statement from Larry Taylor, director of operations for McDonald's Restaurants of Illinois Inc., which owns the two restaurants:
"We care very much about our customers and take this allegation seriously. We do our very best to serve our customers with the utmost care and respect. We have a strict policy prohibiting any form of discrimination in our restaurants. We have not seen the lawsuit and, as such, it would be inappropriate to comment."
Larson's attorney, Laurel Wykes Smith, said the two incidents add up to a violation of her civil rights.
"I felt discriminated against, harassed, embarrassed," Larson said. "All I wanted was the food I had paid for with my money card. I just wanted to feed my kids."