I removed the names of the motel and owners:
For Immediate Release:
October 29, 2003
For Further Information Contact:
Office of The Attorney General
- Peter C. Harvey, Attorney General
Division on Civil Rights
- J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, Director
State Finds Probable Cause in Discrimination Complaint Filed by Blind ManWho Sought Motel Room While Accompanied by Trained Service Dog
TRENTON - Attorney General Peter C. Harvey and Division on Civil Rights
Director J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo announced today that the State has issued a Finding of Probable Cause against a South Jersey motel owner accused of discrimination for turning away a blind man who sought to rent a room while accompanied by a trained guide dog.
According to Harvey, prospective renter Leonard McHugh of Pottsville, Pa., filed a discrimination complaint against (name removed), owner of the (name removed) motel in Rio Grande, Cape May County, after he sought unsuccessfully to rent aroom there for himself and his specially-trained and credentialed guide dog "Indy" in April of 2003.
A Finding of Probable Cause means the State has concluded its investigation, and has determined that there is sufficient evidence to support a reasonablesuspicion that the treatment of McHugh violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), Harvey explained. "Persons with disabilities deserve the same access to public and private facilities as everyone else. Equal justice means, at least, equal treatment, and no one should be turned away from a motel or hotel room because of a disability, or because of their need for the assistance of a trained service or guide dog," said the Attorney General.
Director Vespa-Papaleo said (name removed) is accused of denying McHugh the rental of two available rooms at the (name removed) motel on April 5, 2003. In addition to his guide dog, McHugh was accompanied by his wife and his mother. The McHugh party was attempting to check into two rooms that had been previously reserved for them with the prior understanding, Vespa-Papaleo noted, that Leonard McHugh would be accompanied by a guide dog. Vespa-Papaleo said that McHugh was repeatedly told by the motel owner that no pets were permitted at the Motel. The Director said (name removed) also denied any knowledge of the motel accepting a reservation on behalf of McHugh with the prior understanding that a guide dog would be among the guests. Attempts to resolve the issue by a Middle Township police officer, called to the scene by (name removed) at the request of the McHugh party, were unsuccessful. Ultimately, McHugh rented a room at (name removed) motel in nearby Cape May Court House, which was operated by (name removed)'s husband. However, Vespa-Papaleo said, McHugh was initially afforded similar treatment at that motel. McHugh was again told that no dogs or "pets" were allowed, local police were again called to the scene and, only after some discussion was the McHugh party permitted to rent two rooms.
"Motel and hotel operators must understand that this kind of response to a person with a disability - and to someone using the services of a trained and certified guide dog - is unacceptable. Period," said Vespa-Papaleo. "The hospitality industry has a clear obligation under the LAD to accommodate persons with disabilities, and we are committed to enforcing the LAD for anyone that utilizes a place of public accommodation in New Jersey."
Added Javier Robles, Deputy Director of the New Jersey Division of Disability Services, "As a person with a disability that requires me to utilize a trained service dog, I applaud that the Division on Civil Rights has issued a Finding of Probable Cause in this case."
Robles noted that any person with a disability who believes he or she has been discriminated against, or who needs other assistance, can call the Division of Disability Services' Information and Assistance hotline at 1-800-285-3036.
"While most owners of public establishments accommodate those of us with service dogs, some are uninformed and believe that service and guide dogs are 'pets.' That is simply not true," said Robles. "Rather, trained and certified guide dogs provide necessary assistance to persons with disabilities, just as wheelchairs do. The owners of public establishments need to know that they must welcome service and guide dogs, and cannot turn away those of us who rely on them for independence."
According to Vespa-Papaleo, now that a Finding of Probable Cause has been issued the case will move into a phase known as conciliation, a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in which the parties make a final attempt to resolve the matter. If it is not resolved at conciliation, the matter will be referred to the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, where an Administrative Law judge will hold a formal hearing or non-jury trial on the merits of the case, and issue an Initial Decision. The Initial Decision will then be reviewed by the Division, which is charged with issuing a Final Decision on the merits of the case presented at trial. The agency's Final Decision may be appealed to the Appellate Division of the State's Superior Court.
If found in violation of the LAD, the respondents are subject to a fine, payable to the State, of up to $10,000 for a first offense, up to $25,000 for a second offense, and up to $50,000 for a subsequent offense. The respondents could also be directed to pay damages directly to the victim for "pain and humiliation" and compensatory damages.
The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights is responsible for enforcement of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the Family Leave Act. Specifically, the Division investigates allegations of discrimination in employment, housing, places of public accommodation and credit. The Division has six offices located in Newark, Trenton, Atlantic City, Camden, Jersey City and Paterson. The Division recently established its first-ever Disabilities and Public Accommodations Unit, and that unit was responsible for investigation of the McHugh complaint. Further information about the Division is available on its Web site: www.NJCivilRights.org.
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