Ever since the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed in 1990, most businesses have complied with little complaint. Sure, there are a few who still groan about it but, by and large, businesses have been pretty good about making sure disabled customers have access. But, as always, there are the stragglers…
The Vaughn family from North Carolina found one of the them in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. One of the Best Western hotels in that city refused to allow the family to stay for one night because they had a dog with them. They were told that the hotel was “not pet-friendly.” But Chip is not just any pet: he is a service dog for the family’s 13-year-old son, Beau. The boy has a rare type of epilepsy and Chip alerts the family when Beau is going to have a seizure. Like any service animal, Chip is allowed anywhere that Beau goes: school, restaurants and, yes, hotels.
Even though they don’t have to, the Vaughns always alert any hotel at which they make a reservation that they have a service dog. They have never had a problem until now. When they arrived at the Baton Rouge establishment, they were told that Chip was not allowed. The desk clerk said that she was aware of the ADA but that the owner refused to allow pets. At this point, Mrs. Vaughn — who is an attorney for special needs children — put on her legal hat. The family went to another hotel and she contacted the Best Western corporate office.
Best Western hotels are privately owned franchises. To be able to use the Best Western name, they must meet certain criteria. One of those is compliance with the ADA. Since this particular hotel did not, BW corporate restricted the corporate name. Future use is yet to be determined. Best Western released the following statement to WAFB-TV:
Best Western International requires each independently owned and operated hotel to comply with all federal, state and local laws and standards, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”). We provide extensive training to ensure our hotels understand and address the needs of guests with special needs. When this matter came to our attention, we immediately provided direction to the hotel and a reservation was offered to the family. We deeply regret the matter and we will continue to proactively communicate ADA requirements and training to Best Western branded hotels to ensure all guests are treated with the utmost dignity and respect.
Further, we have restricted the hotel on our reservations systems and we have required the hotel to stop representing itself as a Best Western branded hotel (cover or remove all Best Western signs and logos) until its representatives attend a hearing at our corporate headquarters at which their future association with Best Western will be decided.
The owner of the hotel in question swears that the Vaughn family were the ones to cancel the reservation. He also claims that he’s not received any communication from Best Western corporate. He says that this whole thing was all a mistake. I, for one, don’t buy it. Any hotel owner must train his staff correctly, including laws that pertain to their business. It’s highly suspicious that the desk clerk told the Vaughns that they couldn’t “go against what the owner says.”
The Americans With Disabilities Act is very clear about service animals:
Under the ADA, State and local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that serve the public generally must allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.
The ADA was recently amended to allow for Miniature horses working as service animals. Penalties for non-compliance can be stiff. Fines can range from $16,000 up to $150,000. There is no indication that the owner of the hotel will be fined.
Here is the report from WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge:
WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports