A Whakatāne doctor is demanding an apology from a retail worker she claims repeatedly "yelled at" her young son for playing "peekaboo" behind a shop sign.

The doctor and mother, who works in the town's hospital but did not want to be named, went shopping with her 15-month-old son and her son's grandmother on The Strand, Whakatāne, this week.

They were in Just Jeans when she claims a staff member suddenly yelled at her son as he hid behind a sign near the shop window.

She said the woman yelled "get out of there" and, at first, her son giggled.


"I think maybe he thought; finally someone's joined in my game."

She said the staff member again yelled at the toddler who then came running to his mother crying.

"I felt so embarrassed, I was dumbstruck," the mother told NZME.

She left the store initially but returned to apologise for any distress her son had caused and to tell the shop assistant she had no right to shout at him.

"I told her you should have asked me to move him from there rather than shouting at my son. I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt and make amends.

"But the assistant told me she only had one sign and 'I can't have that damaged and you didn't control your son' and dismissed me by screaming repeatedly 'get out of here, get out of here.' I felt so little... I was wondering why we would be treated this way."

She again left the store and spoke to her husband, who suggested she get a name and photo of the staff member.

The mother claims the worker mocked her "sarcastically" when she again returned to the store to take a photo and lodge a complaint.


"I would have let it slide if it was just me. I hate confrontations, but I have to stand up for my son.

"I want him to grow up knowing there is goodness and beauty in people and want to protect him from 'ugliness'... as long as I can. In Whakatāne, we are a close-knit and supportive community. It was so unexpected."

General view down the Strand in central Whakatāne. Photo / File
General view down the Strand in central Whakatāne. Photo / File

She called the police "and they said they were going to send a Community Constable over there."

The complainant said that in her opinion, "It is such a grey area, there has been no physical abuse, but it was abuse nonetheless."

The mother lodged complaints with the regional Just Jeans manager and police and is considering filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission.

She is now trying to find out, via Just Jeans' management, what is being done about her complaint.

"That is the only way I will know they have taken this seriously. I want a formal apology from the staff member herself."

The family chose to live in Whakatāne because it was a friendly community.

"I like this little town. People are friendly and respectful for the most part, then something like this happens."

She has worked in Whakatāne Hospital for several years and feels like she knows "half the town".

She said the child's grandmother, who was visiting the family to help care for the toddler, was also left embarrassed and confused.

In response to the mother's account, general manager of people and culture at Just Group, which owns Just Jeans, Louise Bilston, said: "We unreservedly apologise to the customer."

"We take all customer feedback and complaints very seriously, and strive to provide the highest levels of service and respect to all customers at all times."

The mother continues to seek an apology from the staff member herself.

Police confirmed they had been made aware of the interactions.

A Human Rights Commission spokeswoman said the organisation did not comment on individual complaints where parties may be offered a mediation process, as the process is confidential and voluntary.