FOREST CITY -- Workers at two local restaurants may face fines because they broke a law they don't understand. They asked a man with disabilities if his service dog was licensed or certified.
When a customer enters a business with a service dog, workers at the business can ask only two questions:
- Is it a service dog?
- What task does the dog perform for its owner?
A couple of restaurant workers are in trouble because they asked other questions.
A service dog named Thor can open front doors and car doors for its owner, Roy Thomas of Forest City.
But Thor and Roy were shown the door at a Burger King in Carbondale in July. Roy says it was because Thor wasn't wearing a service dog vest.
He has cellphone video of the exchange.
Thomas then called Carbondale police. After officers arrived, he met with them and the store manager in the parking lot and recorded it on his cell phone.
Later that night, police cited Burger King evening manager Tina Malys for discrimination on account of a guide dog. She's scheduled to be arraigned in November.
The owner of a restaurant in Susquehanna County faces the same charge
Dave Franceski owns Beacon's Restuarant in Union Dale. He says he must ask younger looking customers for proof of age before allowing them to drink alcohol, but in June, when Thomas brought Thor to the Beacon in Union Dale, Franceski asked Thomas if he had a proof Thor was licensed as a service dog.
That question, Franceski says, got him cited by state police even though he allowed Thomas to stay and have dinner.
"I pled guilty like I was told to do," said Franceski . "And I'm going to go to court and find out what the court says. Why not fight it? Because I was told I was going to lose."
"They were obviously unaware that the dog doesn't have to wear a vest," said Roy Thomas.
Thomas says Thor didn't wear a vest because the dog was a puppy, and the vest was too big.
Thomas is a veteran with a back injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. He believes restaurants should either follow the rules or get fined if they deny him service.
"Every time I go out and it happens to me, the first thing I do is I try to educate people. And the only ones that ever get arrested are the ones who fight to the last breath and say, 'no, it didn't happen,' or, 'no, you still can't do it'."
Keith Williams is the Center for Independent Living advocate for the disabled. Williams says restaurants can turn away customers if a service dog acts unruly. He says businesses need to know that more people have, and need, service animals.
"A business owner should not rush to judgment," said Williams. "There are more disabilities around than just someone who might be in a wheelchair, or who might have a visual or hearing impairment."
Because there are more service dogs trained to deal with more conditions, businesses need to hit the books and know the rules.
Those who don't can be brought to court, fined, and have a summary offense of discrimination on their records.