A restaurant in Utah is facing national scrutiny after turning away several customers with service dogs on at least two separate occasions.
On Thursday, a group of military veterans set out to eat lunch at Bombay Grill in Ogden, Utah, but claim they were quickly “kicked out” because the manager wouldn’t allow their dogs to accompany them inside.
James Mann, the founder of 4 Paws 4 Patriots-Utah (a non-profit organization that provides assistance to veterans with disabilities), said that when he entered the restaurant, he and three friends tried to explain the law that protects those requiring service dogs from being discriminated against, but the manager remained firm in his anti-dog position.
“He stated that if anyone tried to say that he had to serve us by law then he would just close his business,” Mann wrote on YouTube, along with a video he posted of the encounter. Mann told TODAY that he started recording the interaction when he heard the manager telling his friend that she couldn’t bring her dog inside.
“I’ve never been asked to leave anywhere because of my dog,” Mann said. “It was really embarrassing to be discriminated against this way.”
In the video, the four friends are seen sitting at a table in the restaurant while the manager explains they can’t stay. The dogs are all wearing service vests and are laying quietly under tables and chairs.
At first, the manager states that he doesn't care about the law and that he could refuse service to anyone. “He just didn’t care. He said it’s his prerogative and he doesn’t want dogs in his restaurant,” Mann said.
Later, the manager tells the group that the restaurant wasn't open yet but invited them to dine outside on the sidewalk. Mann said there was no designated dining area outside and it was too hot, so the group eventually just left.
“We suffer from PTSD, anxiety, depression ... the dogs have helped us get out and feel confident going out and socializing. This experience was disheartening. We love our service dogs. They’re like family. If we didn’t have to suffer from these things, we’d choose that,” Mann said.
“It’s embarrassing. It’s hurtful when we’re told we can’t go somewhere when we know we are allowed to,” he added of the experience.
The manager of Bombay Grill, who identified himself over the phone to TODAY as Pual (and withheld his last name), said that while he’s never had problems with dogs at his restaurant in the past, he just doesn’t like them.
“I care for other people [dining at the restaurant]. I don’t want the dogs to attack,” he said, adding that one his employees is scared of dogs, so he didn’t want them inside.
Pual explained that he is aware of laws regarding service animals, but if anyone wants to dine in at his restaurant with his or her service dog, he will require them to sign paperwork first. “If someone else [another customer] complains about the dog, the dogs will have [to] leave,” he added.
This isn’t the first time someone has complained about being denied service at Bombay Grill because of a service dog.
A local couple, along with their 5-year-old son and his service dog reportedly experienced a similar situation when they tried to eat at the Indian eatery late last Month. Upon entering the restaurant, they were immediately turned away, the couple told Fox 13. They, too, tried to educate the restaurant worker who denied them service, but he allegedly told them, “No. It's my opinion, it's my restaurant. And I say, no dogs.”
Is this legal?
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), businesses must allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals into “all areas of the facility where customers are normally allowed to go.”
Contrary to popular belief, service animals are not required to wear a vest, an ID tag, or a specific harness and staff are only allowed to ask two specific questions regarding the animal: “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?" and "What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?” according to the ADA website. “Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person's disability.”
In the case of restaurants — or other establishments that prepare and sell food — even if the state or local health code prohibits animals, service animals are an exception and must be allowed inside. Additionally, someone stating that they have allergies or a fear of animals is not a valid reason to refuse service.
Anyone who violates the ADA can be required to pay monetary damages and be subjected to other penalties, but those fines and potential ramifications vary widely.
How should people protect themselves?
Given how widely laws vary from state to state, the consequences for businesses found to be in violation of the law may not be that severe. If the business is found to be in violation of the ADA, however, any fines the government collects, do not go to the person discriminated against.
According to the ADA, “individuals who believe that they have been illegally denied access or service because they use service animals may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. Individuals also have the right to file a private lawsuit in Federal court charging the entity with discrimination under the ADA.” If an individual chooses to pursue legal action against the restaurant or business, they can do so, but damages will be dependent on several factors, including the state’s anti-discrimination laws, Laura Wolf, a lawyer with Rathod and Mohamedbhai LLC, told TODAY.
But patrons should also be aware that there are a few instances in which a business can ask someone with a service animal to leave. According to the ADA, "If admitting service animals would fundamentally alter the nature of a service or program, service animals may be prohibited."
Examples include if the animal is out of control in any way or is not housebroken. A dog barking in a movie theater, for example, may also be asked to leave. Service animals are also required to be harnessed, leashed or tethered when in public, unless the handler is unable to use these devices due to a disability. In that case, the animal must be controlled by voice or other signals.
Mann told TODAY that he and his friends don’t want anything bad to happen to the restaurant or the manager but are sharing their story to bring awareness to the issue. They want veterans, all other service dog owners and business operators to better educate themselves on the laws to stop these instances of discrimination.