(A gentle cautionary tale for the nice people on the other side of the counter.)
As service dog handlers, we’ve had our share of outings spoiled by ignorant business owners and representatives, whether out of arrogance, innocence, or carelessness. We have always ultimately succeeded in getting through to someone knowledgeable in the end, though, so we were aghast to see this article out of Nashville.
Aaron Voris and his wife were thrown out of McNamara’s Irish Pub in Nashville over Aaron’s service dog when Aaron, who has four traumatic brain injuries after two rounds with IEDs in Afghanistan, was unable to communicate specifically enough for owner Sean McNamara what tasks his dog is trained to perform.
McNamara claims that because he was unable to sufficiently answer what tasks the dog performs, the pub determined that the dog was an emotional support animal and ordered the family out.
I see at least two major problems here on McNamara’s part.
One: a business owner is not allowed to quiz a handler on his or her dog’s tasks beyond the initial answer to “what task has it been trained to perform?”. Many service dog owners answer “medical alert” because a multitude of tasks for many disabilities fall into that category, and it allows the handler to protect his or her ADA right to medical diagnosis privacy. A handler with limitations on communication may struggle to answer clearly. The business, however, is required to accept the answer.
Which brings us to the second problem:
Two: A business owner is neither equipped nor entitled to decide what is a service dog AND emotional support or therapy animal vs what is only an emotional support or therapy animal.
Beyond that, the business owner has discriminated against someone whose disability makes communication more challenging in deciding that, because Voris couldn’t articulate in the moment, his dog was not protected under the ADA.
Voris, who tried to explain and even attempted to show McNamara training certification, is now suing under EEOC for access after McNamara refused to read the certification or accept Voris’ statements.
It’s not a matter of money, says Voris. But reporting a business to the EEOC for violation of the ADA is often the only recourse handlers have, and the enforcement of ADA comes via a lawsuit.
When we, Puppity Mamas, encounter businesses with problematic service dog policies, we do our best to educate the owner or representative because we don’t want other service dog handlers who visit after us to have their days ruined by ignorance of the law. We also don’t want well-meaning businesses to come afoul of a lawsuit out of innocent misunderstanding.
Sometimes, though, a business just won’t listen. And sometimes, a handler isn’t able to communicate with the necessary persistence, in that moment, what their rights are under the law.
That’s where the EEOC and lawsuits come in.
It would be fantastic if there was a simpler and more direct way to report EEOC and ADA violations without having to waste everyone’s time and money in the courtroom when all disabled service dog handlers want is equal access.
But for now, that’s the law, and it’s all disabled service dog handlers have when a business refuses to adhere to federal law.
We hope McNamara’s will listen to reason and change their ways.
Want to let McNamara’s Irish Pub know how you feel? Here is their contact page.