Mike McGinn, Mayor
5/2/2005 9:45:00 AM
Elliott Bronstein (206) 684-4507
Hearing Examiner levies fine, attorney's costs for public accommodations violation
The City of Seattle Hearing Examiner has issued a judgment totaling $21,222 against a Ballard-area grocery store owner who refused to let a woman bring her service animal into his shop. The ruling upheld a finding by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) that the owner of the Wicker Basket had illegally discriminated against Joyce Fischer-Jones, a disabled woman who uses a service dog.
The case began in July 2003, when Joyce Fischer-Jones took a break from her volunteer job to buy a drink at a nearby grocery store. In her complaint to SOCR, Ms. Fischer-Jones alleged that Mr. Park refused to let her bring her service dog into the store, at one point shoving her and grabbing her arm.
Ms. Fischer-Jones suffers from an emotional disorder and has used a service animal since 2000 to assist her with panic attacks and agoraphobia.
"Before I got my service animal I was a recluse – I would not leave my apartment," said Joyce Fischer-Jones. "I knew that I needed help, and I knew that a service animal would give me that help. Sox is my touchstone to reality when I'm in public places." Fischer-Jones trained Sox, her service animal, to stay close to her and to nuzzle her hand at the onset of a panic attack.
Both state and federal law allow people with disabilities to use service animals in public places, including shops and restaurants. Customers do not have to provide proof of a disability to enter public places with their service animals.
When Ho and Hyung Park refused to negotiate a settlement with Ms. Fischer-Jones, SOCR referred the case to the City Attorney's office, which filed a complaint with the City's Hearing Examiner. The Hearing Examiner awarded $5,000 in damages to Ms. Fischer-Jones, and ordered the Parks to pay a total of $16,222 in attorneys' costs for both the City of Seattle and Fischer-Jones.
"SOCR issues very few 'reasonable cause' findings, so if we do determine that illegal discrimination has occurred, chances are it's challenge-proof," said Angela Dawson-Milton, SOCR's enforcement manager. "We want any decisions we make to stand up in court."
The Seattle Office for Civil Rights charges no fees for any of its services, including investigations, settlement negotiations and foreign language interpretation. Most charging parties and respondents participate in the process on their own, without the involvement of attorneys.
"Sometimes it pays to acknowledge our decision and agree to remedy the situation," said Germaine W. Covington, SOCR's director. "The Hearing Examiner's decision to require the respondent to pay the City Attorney's fees is good for taxpayers. Once someone discriminates, they shouldn't be able to draw on yet more public funds to pursue their cause."
For more information about illegal discrimination, call the Seattle Office for Civil Rights at 206-684-4500 (TTY 206-684-4503), or find SOCR on the Web at www.seattle.gov/civilrights.
"Ever since that day back in 2003, I still get a little nervous when I walk into a shop with my dog," said Fischer-Jones. "I want other people with hidden emotional disabilities to know they have the right to use a service animal. They don't have to endure what I went through."
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