Monday, May 24, 2010

Couple Denied Service Due to Service Dog

Couple Denied Service Due to Service Dog

MCLEAN, Va. - A McLean couple says they were denied service at a Virginia restaurant because of their service dog. Even after the police were called the couple says they were turned away.

Forty-seven-year-old Christine Calabrese is legally blind, hearing impaired and suffers from severe balance problems. She needs her service dog for help walking in addition to seeing and hearing. But on a trip through southern Virginia the Calabreses were told the dog was not welcome at an area restaurant.

In a letter that John and Christine Calabrese are sending to the Justice Department, they claim that Napolis Italian Restaurant in Altavista, Virginia violated Christine's human rights.

Last Saturday, the Calabreses say they sat down in the restaurant along with Christine's service dog, Koji.

"They took our order for drinks. So I thought everything was fine," said Christine Calabrese.

But they were soon asked to leave by the managers, Ahmed Ahmed and Fathy Morse. John Calabrese says he repeatedly explained the Americans with Disabilities Act, but without success.

"He leaned over and said to me 'I know my business. That dog is not allowed,'" said Calabrese.

The Calabreses went outside and called police, who also called the Health Department to confirm that service dogs are allowed under state and federal law.

"And advised them what the consequences would be and they still refused to allow the lady with the dog into the restaurant," said Deputy Chief Kenneth Walsh with the Altavista Police Department.

The couple and their dog were still turned away.

Manager Fathy Morsy says he didn't know about the Americans with Disabilities Act and he says the Calabreses were being rude.

"I say 'just leave it outside,' because the people were complaining...they tell me 'no,'" said Fathy Morsy. "And he was talking with me, you know, it was not in a good way, you know."

Rude or not, Christine says hopes no other people with disabilities are treated the same way.

"I would like to prevent this from happening again, that's my ultimate goal," said Christine Calabrese. "I always try to make things better for the next disabled person to come along."

The Calabreses say they don't plan to sue the restaurant. They will let the Justice Department decide whether to prosecute.

The restaurant manager says he is sorry about what happened, knows the rules now, and the Calabreses are welcome back anytime.