INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) Deputy Director Joshua Brewster recently announced that the agency has issued a finding that there is probable cause to believe that a service animal trainer was illegally denied entry to an Indianapolis gas station last year when he entered with a service dog.
"The policy of denying access to a person engaged in the training of a service animal has the effect of denying equal access to persons with disabilities by limiting the availability of such animals," Brewster said in a press release.
An investigation stemming from a July 27, 2011, complaint filed with the ICRC found that the complainant entered a gas station with a large dog that he identified as a service dog he was training. An employee of the gas station, which has a no pet policy, denied access to the complainant because of his service animal, arguing that he was not disabled so was not entitled to have a service animal.
Indiana Code 16-32-3-2(d) states that a service animal trainer, while engaged in training, shall be entitled to the same access to places of public accommodation as those with disabilities. It's also important to note that state law (IC 22-9-5-20(f)) also requires employers to allow employees who are training service animals to have them in the workplace.
"An employer, having at least 15 employees, may not interfere, directly or indirectly, with the use of an animal being trained as a service animal," Brewster said. "Recognizing that service animals are not 'pets,' but are a type of 'assistive living device' is a very important distinction."
A public hearing is necessary to determine whether a violation of Indiana civil rights law occurred. The parties may agree to have these claims heard in the circuit or superior court in Marion County or attempt mediation.
A finding of probable cause does not resolve a civil rights complaint. Rather, it means the state has concluded its preliminary investigation and determined there is sufficient evidence to support reasonable suspicion that the Indiana civil rights law has been violated. Indiana civil rights law provides remedies, including compensatory damages and injunctive relief, such as changes in the employer's policies and training.