A Colorado Springs attorney accused of violating the Americans with Disabilities act by not allowing a disabled woman and her seeing eye dog into his office will have to shell out $50,000 as part of a consent decree approved by a federal court today.
A November 2009 complaint accused Patric LeHouillier of barring Joan Murnane, a veterinarian with brain and other injuries that affect her balance , as well as her husband and lawyer, from entering his Colorado Springs law office because her service dog was with them. The complaint says LeHouillier and his firm, LeHouillier & Associates, expressed concern that the Australian shepherd might soil his new carpet.
But the decision turned out to cost him more than any hypothetical carpet spot treatment. The attorney and his firm have agreed to pay $30,000 to Murnane, $10,000 to her husband and another $10,000 for a civil penalty, purportedly for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
LeHouillier's office deferred comment to the firm's attorney, Amy Miletich. She was unavailable for comment, and her voice mail box was full.
"For almost two decades, the ADA has ensured that individuals with disabilities are guaranteed full and equal access to public accommodations, both large and small," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, in a press release. "The Justice Department is unrelenting in [eradicating] discrimination against people with disabilities and ensuring that owners and operators of public accommodations recognize their obligations to provide equal access."
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That's a lot of politic-speak in lieu of the simple wisdom that if a woman with a seeing- eye dog comes into your place of work, maybe you shouldn't kick her out. Besides, dogs are cute -- and shunning them might cost you fifty grand.
Check out the press release below:
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT REACHES CONSENT DECREE WITH COLORADO ATTORNEY RESOLVING LAWSUIT ALLEGING DISABILITY DISCRIMINATION
WASHINGTON -- The Justice Department today announced a federal court has approved a consent decree resolving an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) discrimination lawsuit against attorney Patric LeHouillier and his law firm, LeHouillier & Associates, P.C., based in Colorado Springs, Colo. The consent decree was approved by Judge Marcia S. Krieger in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
In its November 2009 complaint, the Justice Department alleged that LeHouillier and his firm violated Title III of the ADA when they unlawfully barred a woman, her husband and her attorney from entering LeHouillier's law office for a deposition because the woman was accompanied by her service animal, an Australian Shepherd dog. The woman, who is a veterinarian, has a traumatic brain injury and other conditions that affect mobility and balance, and individually trained her service animal to provide disability-related assistance.
Under the terms of the consent decree, LeHouillier and his firm will:
- Adopt an ADA-compliant service animal policy and post the policy in a conspicuous location;
- Post a "Service Animals Welcome" sign;
- Self-report allegations of discrimination to the department;
- Undergo training and provide training to staff;
- Pay $30,000 to the complainant and $10,000 to her husband as a person associated with a person with a disability; and
- Pay a $10,000 civil penalty.
"For almost two decades, the ADA has ensured that individuals with disabilities are guaranteed full and equal access to public accommodations, both large and small," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "The Justice Department is unrelenting in eradicate discrimination against people with disabilities and ensuring that owners and operators of public accommodations recognize their obligations to provide equal access."
A service animal is any animal individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Service animals - most commonly dogs - perform a wide variety of functions. Examples of these functions include guiding persons who are blind or have low vision; alerting individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing to sounds; warning persons about impending seizures or other medical conditions; performing a variety of tasks for persons with psychiatric disabilities and picking up items, opening doors, flipping switches, providing physical support and pulling wheelchairs for individuals with mobility disabilities.
More information about today's lawsuit, the ADA, rights and responsibilities under the ADA relating to service animals, and instructions on filing an ADA complaint with the Justice Department is available on the ADA home page at www.ada.gov. This information includes two publications specifically addressing service animal access: "ADA Business Brief: Service Animals" and "Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business."
Those interested in obtaining copies of these documents or additional information about the ADA can also call the Justice Department's toll-free ADA Information Line (800) 514-0301 or (800) 514-0383 (TTY).