NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A blind Brooklyn man is filing a formal complaint against a Bushwick restaurant after he says the owner refused to let him eat there because of his guide dog.
“He kept saying, ‘no dog, no dog, no dog,'” Willie Richards told CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff.
Richards, who has been completely blind for 20 years after an injury, was told to leave the Popeyes because of a sign on the door saying, “no pets allowed.”
“He pointed to a sign, but we explained to him that’s for regular dogs, but this is a service dog,” he said.
Richards and his guide dog Yolette said federal law allows service animals to accompany their handlers anywhere the public is allowed.
“I was appalled and shocked. I’ve experienced this before where first they are reluctant,” he said.
But not even a responding police officer could convince the owner who insisted it’s his property and he sets the rules.
President of Assistance Dogs International North America Paul Mundell disagreed.
“Under the American Disabilities Act, restaurants, and for that matter any other area of public accommodation, in other words areas where the public can come and go, service dogs are permitted and they can’t be denied unless they are creating a disturbance,” he said.
Service dogs are only barred from areas where the public is barred as well, such as a restaurant kitchen.
At the Popeyes on Myrtle Avenue, the manager said she was schooled on the law.
“I know the law, I could take care of it, but yesterday I wasn’t here,” Rahana Alam said.
But the owner, reached by phone, said he stands by his decision. He questioned how he knows Richards is really blind and cited health concerns.
“We have to protect ourselves too. I mean, the man walked in with a dog, no tags on the dog, no nothing,” he said.
Richards said he went public in hopes of educating others.
People with disabilities do not need to show documents and service dogs do not require special markings. It’s an honor system that unfortunately gets abused, hurting people like him.
“She provides me with my independence. Without her, I am nothing,” he said.
Richards and a witness are filing a complaint with the city’s human rights commission.
The NYPD said the officer called to the scene tried to explain the law to the owner, but he would no comply.
Popeyes issued a statement, saying:
“Thank you for making us aware of this guest’s concern. We welcome every guest at Popeyes and want everyone to have the best experience possible, and franchises are required to follow all federal, state and local regulations. The manager and owner of this restaurant are trying to work with this guest to address the concerns directly.”