Legislation Expands Rights of People Who Use Service Animals
During the 2013 legislative session, the Minnesota legislature amended the Minnesota Human Rights Act (MHRA) to broaden the rights of individuals who use service animals in public establishments under the MHRA and to ensure that the MHRA was consistent with federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The law goes into effect August 1, 2013.
Businesses that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to enter with their service animal and to proceed into any area of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go. The law applies to all businesses open to the public, including restaurants, hotels, taxis, buses, grocery and department stores, hospitals and medical offices, theaters, health clubs, parks and zoos.
Businesses may ask if an animal is a service animal or ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform. However, businesses may not ask:
- About the person's disability or require documentation of the disability,
- That special identification cards for the service animal be produced,
- That the dog demonstrate its ability to perform work,
- About the training that the service animal received, or
- Require individuals with a service animal to use a specific entrance.
Can any animal be a service animal?
Service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities that are directly related to the person's disability. Service animals are working animals, not pets.
Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting or protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties.
A dog whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support does not qualify as a service animal.
The Department of Justice issued guidance clarifying that a miniature horse (a horse in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the shoulders and generally weighing between 70 and 100 pounds) may also serve as a service animal under the ADA. Historically, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has relied on Department of Justice guidance favorably in interpreting the MHRA. Individuals may choose a miniature horse as a service animal instead of a dog because of allergies, religious reasons or due to a horse's longer lifespan.
The Department of Justice guidance stated that entities must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable. In determining whether to permit miniature horses, the entity should assess:
- whether the miniature horse is housebroken;
- whether the miniature horse is under the owner's control;
- whether the facility can accommodate the miniature horse's type, size and weight; and
- whether the miniature horse's presence will compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for the safe operation of the facility.
The definition of service animal under the MHRA does not affect or limit the broader definition of "assistance animal" under the Fair Housing Act or the broader definition of "service animal" under the Air Carrier Access Act.