I got an email back from the podiatrist’s office today– one day after they received my letter.
They agreed to all my stipulations! They have talked with the employee, have retrained all their staff, and sent me a formal written apology from the employee!
Yay! Letter writing works!
In case you missed it, here is what the letter said:
Management of [redacted] Podiatry Group:
My name is Dr. Veronica Morris, and I am a patient of yours who was seen at your Rock Hill office on October 13, 2021. I am disabled and I attended the appointment with my service dog, as I had my previous visit. I had an atrocious interaction with a staff member that demands your attention to ensure your employees do not violate the law, incur corporate liability, and harass patients in the future.
As described by the Department of Justice (https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html), a service dog is “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability”.
The DOJ further states “Covered entities may not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal, as a condition for entry.”
Additionally, service animals must be allowed in medical facilities: “Service animals must be allowed in patient rooms and anywhere else in the hospital the public and patients are allowed to go.”
Your staff needs training in the very basics of these laws. The treatment I received on October 13th was egregious. It is one of the worst encounters I’ve had in the 16 years I’ve been using a service dog. I’m writing this letter in hopes of amicably resolving the issue so that I don’t have to make a formal Americans with Disabilities Act complaint to the Department of Justice.
As some background, I am not a service dog novice. I am president of a service dog nonprofit, Psychiatric Service Dog Partners (www.psych.dog). I am an expert witness in service dog court cases. I even helped the Department of Transportation re-evaluate and change their laws regarding service dogs in the flying context, which DOT continues to consult with me on. I regularly give presentations on service dogs and am a well-known service dog advocate.
When I checked in on October 13th, the front desk staff welcomed me and I sat to await my appointment. When I was called back by [redacted], she demanded to see my “papers” regarding my service dog.
I said that papers are not required by law, but that I am disabled and my dog warns me before I get sick.
She said that wasn’t enough, that I had to have papers. I explained that papers have no legal meaning—there is no definition of papers for a service dog, and while some dogs have some version of them, they cannot be required.
She said “well, you didn’t bring your dog last time” and I said that I had. Then she said she must not have been working that day or else she wouldn’t have let me in without my papers.
She said her brother has a diabetic alert dog so she knows all about service dogs, and he has papers that he has to show whenever he goes into any business.
I again said that service dogs do not need to show papers under the ADA.
She showed me back to the exam room, all the while explaining how she knows everything about service dogs since her brother has one, and telling me multiple times about all of his papers that he always shows.
Then she said that she saw in my file that I had shown papers last time, and she just needed to verify that I still had them. This is a flat out lie. I did not show any documentation of my service dog during my previous visit (doing so would train employees they can violate civil rights by requiring them). And if I had, why did she need to see them again?
I sat in the chair, and before going over what I was there for, she again aggressively questioned me. This time she started asking me if I had papers at home, but just not on me at the moment.
I said no, that papers are not legally defined nor required under the ADA.
When she said again that her brother has papers and always shows them, I said that it is illegal for people to require whatever papers he has.
I tried explaining that some places do give out documentation, especially programs that train service dogs or scam companies that sell meaningless documentation online, but that it is not required. This could not be clearer in DOJ’s FAQ.
I told her if the dog is misbehaving, she can legally kick the dog out. Paperwork is a red herring when it comes to whether a dog has access with a disabled person.
She tut-tutted me, and started doing something on her computer, so I pulled out the Department of Justice’s FAQ about service dogs (linked at the start of this letter) that I carry with me. I pointed to question 17 which states that documentation is not required.
She then informed me that since they are a medical establishment, they don’t have to follow the ADA. Instead they have to follow OSHA. I tried to let her know that they do have to abide by ADA but she wouldn’t listen.
Finally I told her that I know the laws—that I am a service dog advocate, that I have helped the Department of Transportation with flying laws, that I am a service dog expert witness, and I am president of a service dog nonprofit. She still didn’t believe me, and repeated that her brother has a diabetic alert dog, and he always shows his papers.
We argued about whether or not I had to show papers for about 15 minutes before she finally started assessing me for the reason I came to the office. Then she said she didn’t feel like arguing about this anymore, and left to get the doctor. Meanwhile, I was texting the details of this interaction to my spouse, who was waiting for me outside.
The doctor was very professional and treated me well.
[Redacted] has no business demanding papers of anyone with a service dog. She was extremely rude in her demands, and refused to start assessing me for my appointment until she had wasted time arguing with me for 15 minutes. This harassment could have broken a less experienced service dog team, all because of an employee’s mis-aimed self-righteousness, lack of compassion, and lack of training.
Your action is required to remedy the situation and to protect future patients. I expect to hear back from you within two weeks confirming (1) that you have talked specifically with [redacted] about the way she treated me, (2) that you have retrained all of your staff regarding service animals, (3) that you have removed any possible box to check or field to complete on a patient’s records that they have shown paperwork for a service animal, and (4) a written apology from [redacted].
I understand that management cannot anticipate all the ways in which an employee might make serious errors like what I’ve described, so my first response is not to escalate this to the authorities. However, if the reasonable steps I’ve enumerated do not happen in a timely manner, my next action will be to alert the Department of Justice and my insurance company about the unremedied infractions.
If you have further questions, you may contact me at [redacted] or call me at 805-876-4256.
Veronica Morris, PhD