Hotel Chain Settles, $20K Fine, For Alleged ADA Violation Over Seeing-Eye Dog

By Elizabeth Harrington | October 2, 2012 | 1:41 PM EDT

Guide dog. (AP)

( – A hotel chain was fined $20,000 for allegedly violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because it reportedly refused to allow a blind person with a service dog rent a room at its facility more than three years ago.

Microtel Inns and Suites agreed to settle with the U.S. Justice Department even though they denied allegations that they discriminated against Michael Turner, a Tennessee blind man, on Aug. 10, 2009.

The agreement, released on Sept. 12, states that the company chose to settle to avoid a legal battle.  “Microtel denies that it or its agents have violated the ADA and does not admit to any of the allegations made by the Complainant or the United States,” it said.

“However, in the interest of resolving the United States’ investigation without litigation, the parties have agreed to resolve this matter as set forth without adjudication of any factual or legal disputes,” reads the settlement.

The Justice Department claimed that Turner, his wife, and three children were turned away from a Microtel Inn and told to go elsewhere after a hotel worker thought his seeing-eye dog was a pet – pets are not allowed at that particular motel.

The settlement states that Turner had called ahead of time, informing the motel he would be arriving with his service dog.

“Upon arrival, the desk clerk told the Complainant [Turner] that pets were not allowed at the motel,” reads the settlement agreement.  “Complainant explained that he is blind and that his animal was a seeing-eye dog, but the clerk refused to rent Complainant a room.”

“She informed Complainant that his dog was not allowed on the premises and that he should go to the motel across the road, which the clerk claimed had the same ownership as the Microtel Inn and allowed ‘pets,’” the settlement continued.  “When Complainant insisted that he had a right to stay at the motel with his service animal, the desk clerk called 911 and asked that police be sent to remove Complainant and his family from the premises.”  Microtel denies that it treated Turner unfairly.

A bedroom at a Microtel Inn. (AP)

The government sided with Turner, and is forcing the motel chain to pay a $20,000 penalty in four installments, train its employees according to ADA guidelines, and post a sign that reads “Service Animals Welcome.”

Turner filed a complaint with the Justice Department with the help of the Disability Law and Advocacy Center of Tennessee, according to News Channel 5 of Nashville.

The Center, which advises people with disabilities, also helped Turner file a civil case against the hotel clerk, Becky Jo McHughes, though the results were not as lucrative. McHughes was slapped with a $50 fine for a misdemeanor.

"It was about principle," Turner said when the civil case concluded in September 2010. "And about my personal civil rights. It's never been about the money. It's about the principle, and what I stand for."

Now the Microtel company must adopt a service animal policy for all its hotels, and train its employees within 90 days.  The training must be conducted by an independent third party who is “knowledgeable regarding the requirements of title III of the ADA and approved by the United States,” according to the settlement.

“The person who conducts each training session will provide a written certification stating the date on which training was provided and the name of each person who attended and completed each such training,” reads the agreement.

The Justice Department has also given strict instructions for a sign they must now display:  “Within ten (10) days of the Effective Date of this Agreement, Microtel shall post, maintain, and refresh, as necessary, a sign, printed in dark bold letters, in a font twenty-six (26) points or larger in size, on a contrasting white background, stating ‘Service Animals Welcome’ that shall be conspicuously located in an area of the Microtel Inn where it can be easily seen and read by members of the public.”

A minature horse service animal, now included in the ADA guidelines for accessible design. (AP)

The agreement defines a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for individuals with disabilities, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

The settlement only mentions service animals that are dogs. However, as previously reported, miniature horses were added to the ADA guidelines for accessible design earlier this year.  Both policies instruct that a service animal, whether a horse or dog, may be denied entry if it is not housebroken.

The Justice Department also gives specific instructions to Microtel on how to approach a person with a disability.

Only if necessary, workers are ordered to ask one of two questions to determine if the person is disabled, being, “Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?” and “What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”

Finally, Microtel employees must vow the following:  “We will not ask an individual questions about his or her disability. We will not ask an individual to show a license, certification, or special ID card as proof of their animal's training. We will not ask an individual with a service animal to use a specific entrance or exit in the inn. We must permit service animals to accompany individuals with disabilities to all areas of our inn normally used by guests or other members of the public and will treat individuals with service animals with the same courtesy and respect that Microtel Inns & Suites affords to all of our customers.”

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