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Pushing Back at Discrimination Against Psoriatic Diseases

Carrie LaRoche was asked to leave a spa because of her psoriasis, so she filed suit

By Michele Bloomquist

In her stand-up comedy act, part-time comedian Carrie LaRoche, 37, of Philadelphia, jokes about being "spotted." It was no laughing matter, though, when an employee at a well-known Atlantic City, N.J., casino barred her from using the resort's spa while vacationing there with her family last New Year's Eve.

The reason? She was told that other spa customers, including a registered nurse, were offended by her skin condition, which she quickly explained to the staff was psoriasis and noncontagious. Despite her clarification, the spa manager told her she could not use the facilities unless she could produce a doctor's note. When she refused to leave, he called for two security guards.

"It was horrible," she recalls. "I was humiliated. I can honestly say I know what discrimination feels like now."

She pleaded her case to the casino staff through tears for two hours to no avail. Then, 15 minutes before closing, the manager contacted her to tell her that everyone else had left the spa, so he could sneak her in to finally use the Jacuzzi.

After refusing his offer and a subsequent one for a $200 dinner gift certificate, LaRoche, her husband, and their 16-year-old son packed up and drove home that night, arriving shortly after midnight.

LaRoche, who has had psoriasis since she was a child, thought she had long ago left behind the cruel childhood taunts and curious stares she'd endured most of her life and had made peace with her condition. Yet this incident brought it all rushing back, and she found herself unable to sleep, eat, stop crying or go to work for days afterward.

"Before then, I was very confident about who I was," she says. "I had no problem wearing a swimsuit in public. But suddenly I couldn't even wear shortsleeved shirts anymore. I felt like everyone was staring at me."

It was about standing up for my rightsDistraught, LaRoche wrote to the National Psoriasis
Foundation and then contacted a lawyer and filed a discrimination lawsuit against the casino. The case was settled out of court last April for an undisclosed amount, and La Roche agreed not to name the facility publicly.

"It wasn't about the money," LaRoche says. "It was about standing up for my rights. I knew the only way I could get past it was to fight back."

LaRoche says she also wanted to set an example for her son, who is autistic and might someday face discrimination himself.

As an act of closure, LaRoche recently returned to the Atlantic City spa with a doctor's note in hand, put on her swimsuit and went swimming. "I told myself I had to do it. I had to prove to myself that I was truly over it."

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