Friday, August 10, 2012

Store Learns Costly Lesson: Allow Service Dogs

TRENTON — A convenience store chain with locations throughout the county, will likely be more user-friendly to patrons needing assistance of service animals.
Under an agreement finalized in July, the Pennsylvania-based Wawa Corporation paid a Cumberland County man $12,500 to settle a complaint that occurred at its Millville store. According to court documents, on June 13 Patrick Stark entered the store accompanied by his service dog, Copenhagen. Stark told investigators he requires the use of a service animal because he experiences periodic seizures. Copenhagen is trained to assist him.
Stark, who entered the store to purchase a sandwich, was allegedly told he would not be served unless he took Copenhagen outside. When Stark attempted to explain to employees the service dog was permitted by law, a store manager allegedly told the man he must leave.
As part of a settlement agreement Wawa Corporation paid Stark and agreed to post signs in all of its New Jersey stores advising service dogs are welcomed. Wawa also agreed to train its New Jersey employees regarding the laws related to service animals as well as the company’s policies. All newly hired employees will also receive training.
The settlement suggests that Wawa consider making “a charitable donation to a service organization dedicated to providing service animals for individuals with disabilities.”
“This is an important resolution to this matter,” said New Jersey Division of Civil Rights Director Craig Sashihara. “The allegations in the case were troubling…”
Paulann Pierson, coordinator of Disabilities Service for the Cape May County Department of Aging and Disability Services, does not hear many complaints regarding service dogs in this county.
“Most businesses seem to be accommodating as to service animals,” said Pierson. “People with disabilities are part of our community,” said Pierson, “and they want to be included. We’re moving toward making our community totally inclusive.”
In order to insure they are in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), local businesses such as stores, motels and hotels often contact Pierson for clarification. “Business and hotel and motel owners often ask questions,” Pierson told the Herald. “They want to be fair and sensitive to ADA requirements.”
Under ADA regulations, service animals are defined as “dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks of people with disabilities.” The task or the work the dog is trained to do must be directly related to the person’s disability.
If the service dog’s function is not easily discernible, business staff members may only ask two questions:
• Is the dog a service animal required for a disability?
• What task has the dog been trained to perform?
It is illegal to ask the person with the service dog about their disability, require medical documentation for that person or a special identification card for the dog or ask that the dog demonstrate its work.

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