Avoiding Disability Violations Through Proper Training

Disability Law

T.J. Maxx recently made headlines when a Boston Marathon bombing victim was told that she could not shop with her service dog. The incident highlights the importance of training workers to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

According to Sydney Corcoran, it was clear that Koda was a service dog, wearing a bright blue vest with the words “service dog” on it. However, the store manager told Corcoran that the dog had to be placed in a cart or she would have to leave the store.

Under the ADA, businesses and organizations that serve the public must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go.

In addition, a person with a disability cannot be asked to remove his service animal from the premises unless:

1) the animal is out of control and the animal’s owner does not take effective action to control it, or 2) the dog is not housebroken.

T.J. Maxx has since publicly apologized, telling USA Today, “We have looked into the particulars regarding this customer’s experience and deeply regret that our procedures were not appropriately followed in this instance.”

It is unclear if the retailer will face legal repercussions for the ADA violation.

To avoid a similar incident, businesses should understand their obligations with regard to service dogs under federal and state disability law.

Below are a few key points from the U.S. Department of Justice:

  • The law defines service animals as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities, which may include a range of activities from leading the blind to calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
  • When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, inquiries must be limited to the following questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Businesses cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task.
  • Businesses that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises. In addition, allergies and fear of animals are generally not valid reasons for denying access to service animals.
  • Individuals with disabilities who use service animals cannot be isolated from other patrons, treated less favorably than other patrons, or charged fees that are not charged to other patrons without animals. However, businesses are not required to provide food for a service animal or provide a special location for it to relieve itself.

Donald M. Pepe is a partner at Scarinci Hollenbeck. If you have any questions about this post or would like to discuss ADA compliance, please contact him at 732-568-8370 or dpepe@scarincihollenbeck.com.

This article originally appeared at www.businesslawnews.com, which is a business law blog published by Scarinci Hollenbeck. Scarinci Hollenbeck is a full service, general practice law firm that provides a broad range of legal services to a diverse group of clients. Visit scarincihollenbeck.com for more information. 

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