Case File: Disability
In a 'rocket docket' case, the Department quickly resolved and obtained a settlement for a woman with a disability when her service animal was not allowd in a restaurant.
The day before Mothers' Day, Julie's mother stopped by the restaurant to confirm the reservations she had made a few days earlier. In speaking with the hostess, she mentioned that her daughter uses a wheelchair, and would be bringing her service dog.
The hostess said she did not think it would be possible for the daughter to bring her service dog into the restaurant. The mother then asked to speak to the manager, who told her he "didn't feel right" about letting a dog inside. Then the daughter telephoned the manager. The dog is a certified service animal who assists her with her disability and helps her navigate in her wheelchair, she explained. She pointed out that she had a legal right, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to bring her service animal to a place of public accommodation.
But the manager was not persuaded. If Julie (not her real name) showed up at his place with a service animal, she would have to take the dog back to her car. Otherwise, he would cancel their reservation, he said.
In answering a charge of discrimination filed with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, the restaurant manager acknowledged that he had banned the service animal. He anticipated that the restaurant would attract a larger than average crowd on Mother's Day, he explained. Although the customer had explained that her service animal was trained to be calm in crowds, he feared the the dog would be "spooked" by all the customers milling about him, causing some type of problem.
The Department of Human Rights determined that the restaurant had violated the Human Rights Act by denying the charging party the right to the "full and equal enjoyment" of a place of public accommodation.
In a negotiated settlement, the restaurant agreed to post signage on or near the front door stating that service animals are welcome at the establishment, to provide training for its employees on the public accommodations provisions of the Human Rights Act, and to pay the charging party $500. The settlement does not constitute an admission of any wrongdoing.