Kathleen Lentini is a quadriplegic who uses a wheelchair for mobility. She has a small “service dog” Shih Tzu/Poodle mix named Jazz who provides minimal protection and retrieves small dropped items.
During the 1997-1998 season, Lentini attended 10 or 11 events at the Center for the Arts Theater. On two occasions, during intermissions, Jazz either yipped or barked when an individual approached Lentini.
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After Jazz was told by Lentini, “It’s OK,” there were no further problems. Although no patrons complained, theater sales director Randall Vogel and house manager Alan Corbin instructed the security officer not to allow Lentini’s service dog into any future event.
When Lentini refused to remove Jazz from another event, a security officer called the local police. Corbin was prepared to sign a citizen’s arrest to have Lentini arrested and removed from the theater unless she removed Jazz. She reluctantly left voluntarily.
Lentini then filed a lawsuit against the theater, Corbin and Vogel. She alleged claims under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state law.
If you were the judge would you rule Lentini is entitled to damages for exclusion of her service dog?
The judge said yes!
The Americans with Disabilities Act is very clear, the judge began, that places of public accommodations must provide persons with disabilities “the broadest feasible access,” including their service animals.
A service animal is any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability, he noted.
However, if a service animal creates a disturbance to other patrons, the judge continued, then there might be a basis to exclude that animal. But there is no evidence the momentary yipping or barking of Jazz disturbed other theatergoers, he added.
Based on the conduct of the theater personnel, the theater is ordered to pay Lentini $1,000, Corbin is ordered to pay $1,000 and Vogel is ordered to pay $5,000 to Lentini, for total of $7,000 damages, the judge ruled.
Based on the 2004 U.S. Court of Appeals decision in Lentini v. California Center for the Arts, Escondido, 370 Fed.3d 837.
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