Willie Richards, who is blind, was recently refused service at a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen restaurant in New York City because he brought his guide dog, Yolette, with him (video below).
"[The owner] kept saying, 'no dog, no dog, no dog,'" Richards told WCBS. "He pointed to a [no pets allowed] sign, but we explained to him that’s for regular dogs, but this is a service dog."
Richards, who has been blind for 20 years, said he has encountered similar situations at businesses, but not total resistance.
"I was appalled, I was kinda shocked," Richards added. "I’ve encountered situations where at first they would be reluctant."
A police officer was called to the restaurant, but was not able to convince the Popeyes owner to allow the guide dog, even though it is a federal law. The owner insisted he makes the rules on his property.
Paul Mundell, president of Assistance Dogs International North America, told the news station: "Under the Americans with 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."
WCBS did not identify the Popeyes owner who told the news station that he questioned whether or not Richards is actually blind, and brought up health issues.
"Listen, we have to protect ourselves too," the owner said. "I mean, the man walks in with a dog, no tags on the dog, no nothing."
The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division states on its website:
When it is not obvious what service an animal provides, only limited inquiries are allowed. Staff may ask two questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability, and (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff cannot ask about the person’s disability, require medical documentation, require a special identification card or training documentation for the dog, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform the work or task...
Establishments that sell or prepare food must allow service animals in public areas even if state or local health codes prohibit animals on the premises.
Richards and a bystander who witnessed the incident are filing a complaint with New York City's human rights commission.
Popeyes corporate office issued a statement that seemed to contradict the owner's position:
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.