Hattiesburg Restaurant Agrees to Pay Damages for Treatment of Patron with Service Dog
Jackson, Miss - “On September 11, 2013, Vickie Killingsworth, accompanied by her service dog, entered the Grand China Buffet Restaurant, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi,” said U.S. Attorney Gregory K. Davis. “Killingsworth, along with her friends, asked to be seated but were then told by the hostess `No dogs are allowed.’ Further, the hostess informed Killingsworth that they must leave the premises. Killingsworth, who uses a wheelchair, informed the hostess she was mobility impaired, that the dog was her service animal, and that she had a right to be seated and treated as all other patrons.
Eventually, restaurant staff allowed Killingsworth and her party to receive service. However, they were seated in a corner well away from all other customers, near a service area. As Killingsworth approached the front of the restaurant to leave, a staff person met her at the front door to tell her, `Next time no dog.’ As Killingsworth tried to explain the law regarding service animals, he waved his hand toward the door, raised his voice in an angry tone and said, `Go!’ ”
Grand China Buffet Restaurant and its owner, Zhen Fei Chen, have entered into a Settlement Agreement with the United States following an investigation conducted by the U. S. Attorney’s Office. The investigation concluded that Killingsworth had been denied her civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act as the result of the treatment she received while at the restaurant. Even though Grand China Buffet eventually allowed Killingsworth and her service dog to enter the restaurant, she was restricted to a certain area and told to never return with her service animal.
As a matter of protected civil rights the Americans with Disabilities Act clearly provides that a Title III public accommodation, such as a restaurant, may not discriminate against persons with disabilities who rely on service animals to assist them. It is the restaurant owner’s responsibility to properly train staff in this regard to prevent such discrimination, embarrassment and humiliation.
Killingsworth was paid $2,500.00 in compensatory damages by the restaurant, and a civil penalty of $500.00 was paid to the United States in order to partially vindicate the public interest.
The restaurant's owners and employees (now and in the future) must undergo specific training regarding customers with service animals; signs must be posted on the exterior entrances of the business alerting patrons that persons accompanied by their service animals will be welcomed; and the settlement also prohibits future discrimination at the restaurant.
In conclusion, U. S. Attorney Davis stated: “We appreciate the cooperation of Grand China Buffet and Zhen Fei Chen in bringing about an amicable resolution of this matter. Service animals play a vital role in providing independence for persons with disabilities. The Americans with Disabilities Act will be fully enforced in this District. If anyone has experienced similar conduct or other discriminatory actions based on their disability— including barriers to access to public accommodations, effective communication issues for those with sensory impairments, or other discrimination— please contact Assistant United States Attorney Pshon Barrett at (601) 965-4480 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Kingfish note: Confucious say Ms. Killingsworth should be glad ancient Chinese chef did not make her service dog the dinner.