THIS IS THE LETTER I SENT HOOTERS AFTER A DENIAL OF ACCESS INCIDENT WITH MY SERVICE DOG. TODAY, JANUARY 24, 2013, I RECEIVED A MEDIATION PACKET FROM THE DEPT OF JUSTICE. WE NOW MOVE FORWARD WITH OUR SUIT. WISH ME LUCK. HOOTERS DOES THIS AS A GENERAL ACT. THEY HAVE DONE THE SAME AND WORSE TO OUR DISABLED VETS WITH SERVICE ANIMALS. SHAME SHAME SHAME
3541 Truxel Rd, Sacramento, CA 95834
Manager Name: “Keesmo”
Hooters, I am gravely disappointed about how one of your Sacramento, CA restaurant managers illegally berated, belittled and humiliated me in front of your restaurant patrons and left me so weak that I was barely able to stand. I will be filing a federal complaint.
My name is Beverly and I’m a person with disability (PWD). I rely on my service dog Oliver to alert me when my blood sugar becomes too high or low, and after having him by my side for 5 years, he has saved my life time and time again. As my service dog, Oliver can legally go anywhere with me, regardless of whether or not he’s wearing his vest.
On June 23, 2012, Oliver alerted me of my dropping blood sugar, so my husband and I decided to go to Hooters. Oliver in tow at the restaurant, the employee who went by the name “Keesmo” immediately raised his voice regarding my service dog, demanding to see his “papers”.
“I need to see your papers for your dog!”
I replied, “I don’t have to show you any papers and it’s against the law to ask.”
Keesmo didn’t like this. He proceeded to mock me, saying that anyone could put a vest on a dog and accused me of fraudulently trying to pass Oliver as a service dog. I informed Keesmo that I am a service dog advocate in my county, and handed him a card with the ADA service dog laws and their 800 number, which Keesmo promptly wadded up and tossed on the ground. He bragged about how he never lets service dogs into the restaurant because people don’t have “their papers”.
A huge concern I had was Keesmo’s increasingly aggressive body language and tone. He repeatedly accused me of “disrespecting” him. “How so,” I asked him? His reply was because I told him that I didn’t have to show him any papers. Well, according to law, I don’t!
Keesmo was violating my civil rights and was shamelessly breaking California penal codes 365.5 through 365.7, as well as the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. I am well aware that the Dept. of Justice could fine Hooters $55,000.00 for a first violation of ADA, and $110,000.00 for a second fine, and so on. Then there are punitive damages, bad publicity, and court ordered training for the staff and company employees…
I tried to explain all of this to Keesmo, only to have him belittle me repeatedly, even ridiculing me in front of the nearest restaurant patrons by the hostess stand. As a former paralegal, I have seen more things than I ever wanted to in my life. And since I have interviewed all kinds of people, I know how to calmly get my point across, which is what I tried to do with Keesmo. He was the angry one. I had an answer to each and every one of his accusations and it obviously “disrespected” him and made him angry. All I did was point out the law and try to educate him on the ADA even though that should have been Hooters’ job, not mine, but he wasn’t having it.
In fact, he became so aggressive, that even when my husband, who was clearly upset at being called a liar, went outside, Keesmo got a large man to pursue my husband and Keesmo hit the door so hard that he broke the security bar on the door and it hit the ground. Keesmo then had the audacity to scream, “YOU BROKE MY DOOR!” at my husband when my husband was already 15 feet away from it. He kept trying to goad my husband on, sarcastically saying, “You’re a real nice guy…” My husband asked the other man if he even knew why he was out there and he said no. The man seemed to be soft spoken and confused as to what was going on, so the “disrespect” was obviously in Keesmo’s head.
When Keesmo started going after my husband, I feared for his safety so I called 911. I was still indoors, on the phone with the police and I couldn’t hear the 911 operator because Keesmo was yelling so loudly. Seriously, Hooters, this is how you train your employees? Do you realize that I can have him arrested for violating my civil rights, be taken before a judge, pay a fine and possibly serve jail time?
By the time Keesmo finished his rant, I was in tears and barely able to stand up. I was humiliated to the point of panic. I went outside for a minute to check on my dog and husband and came back in to get my cane, only to hear Keesmo trash talking me and my “disability”, as he put it, to other customers and fellow staff. He saw me and rushed back to the door to berate me some more and this time he had a little smirk on his face. He then proceeded to encourage the people at the table nearest to me to take his side.
That’s the point when I just want the ground to swallow me up. I consider myself to be an educated, smart, and easy-going person, but I do not want attention drawn to me. With my blood sugar continuing to drop, I told Keesmo that I was about to pass out but not to touch me if I did. The ONLY reason I didn’t stay and wait for the police (you can find my phone calls to 911 and the non-emergency police number on record) is because I was becoming sick – too sick to go through this ridiculous interrogation, aggression and accusations. I am disabled. It is a FEDERAL violation to draw attention to that or belittle me because of it. Keesmo didn’t care – all he wanted to do was win. How sad.
Surprisingly, Keesmo then proceeded to say, “Well I believe your dog is a real service dog because you didn’t back down.”
Wait a second; was this all a contest to see if I would stick to my guns before I could be seated? How appalling and insulting! He bragged again about driving away other PWD with service dogs because they didn’t “carry their papers”.
Keesmo admitted that maybe I was right about not needing papers to carry with us, but insisted that even though the law says I don’t have to, HE thinks I should and “so should everyone else with a service dog to avoid this problem in the future”. I have to laugh. So all this hassle and me explaining the law and how he had broken it over and over meant nothing. Because in Keesmo’s mind, Keesmo can make up his own laws and isn’t intimidated or can’t be bothered with the truth or actual laws. During these last moments of our conversation, when I was trying to explain to him how he was opening himself up to being arrested and fined and costing Hooters a lot of money, he rolled his eyes, smirked and said he could afford it.
Okay then, so be it. He doesn’t care, Hooters, if you get sued or he gets arrested as long as he gets to turn away disabled people. I might add that while I was talking, he kept screaming at me and interrupting me. I finally said, look, I have 6 children and you are probably young enough to be one of mine. Will you please let me finish my sentence before you start talking? He rolled his eyes once again and smirked. He then stated he was 36 years old and knew a lot. I have no idea what that had to do with anything, but I let him finish his arrogant rant. When he was done, I explained to him that I was actually trying to help him as well as other disabled people who may try to come to Hooters with a service dog.
In response, all he did was interrupt me more and say “well last week someone came in and I know it wasn’t a service dog…”
I told him “That has NOTHING to do with me and if you doubt they have a service dog and that they are lying, call the police and report them.” There are stiff penalties for fakers, and I have reported fakers myself! It makes it difficult for those of us who need our dogs when others lie, but I digress.
To interrogate me for 30 minutes; berate and belittle me; try to start a fight with my husband; humiliate me in front of staff and the entire restaurant and cause me to have to wait too long to eat is not only in violation of many laws, but just plain inhumane. Why would one human being want to treat another so poorly? Did he feel like he was proving something to all those beautiful ladies? Or the customers? Did it make him feel big because he humiliated me in front of all those people? Hooters, does being a bully come within his job description?
When he told me he “believed” my dog was “real” because I stood my ground, it made me want to vomit. I told him, “How many people with “real” service dogs do you think you have run off, simply because they didn’t want the confrontation and don’t even know what you are talking about when you ask for “papers”?” He just smirked. I didn’t find it remotely amusing, and I told him the reason I did stick to my guns was because of all those other disabled people out there that have PTSD, or have been humiliated by him or simply don’t have the health to put up with his embarrassing behavior.
I reminded him that I am an advocate, that I help people with access issues, so how hypocritical would it have been for me to simply walk away? The only reason I finally left is because my husband saw me getting sicker and sicker and made me leave. Keesmo didn’t even offer me a glass of water – didn’t even care that I was fading fast. Actions like what I experienced in your restaurant are why people with disabilities (PWD) don’t go anywhere very often. Would you? If you never knew if someone would attack you at a restaurant or interrogate you, would you want to go anywhere? What if I was in a wheelchair (which I am many times because of an illness) and he started to ask me for my papers to prove that I needed that chair? Like he said, anyone can put a vest on a dog, so by that logic, can’t anyone can sit in a wheelchair? Hooters, is this how you train your employees, to harass people with disabilities?
My dog’s vest is a service dog vest, but the law doesn’t require him to wear one. It’s clearly marked as to avoid issues such as this. Apparently it was a waste of money. HOOTERS, just so you know, there are NO papers required of service dogs. If you have a program trained dog, they have a little certificate for you to hang on your wall, but there is no “paper” required anywhere for PWD who rely on service animals.
I personally have my dog registered with my county and he has a service dog tag. Though it is not required on any level, I paid the $55.00 for it. My dog has to be licensed just like a pet, but service animals are NOT pets. I don’t have to pay a deposit for my dog when I rent a place to live, he flies with me free of charge, the airlines have to seat me in bulkhead to accommodate his size, I ride trains, buses, and ferries with him and he rides free.
If someone kills or harms a service dog, it’s a $10,000.00 fine, last time I checked. It’s serious! My dog is allowed places where humans can be turned away. He has federal rights that humans do not have. You can tell a human to leave a business but not a service dog unless he’s acting up. Even if he barks in your establishment, and it’s because he’s warning me that I am in trouble, you cannot make him leave. He must be well trained and behave properly and that he is. Oliver is my lifeline.
So just like you wouldn’t turn away a person in a wheelchair, or someone using oxygen, you cannot turn away a service animal. Oh, and one more thing Keesmo said. He told me he’s even turned away blind people with fake canes! Having him as an employee is going to get you sued. He questions blind people if they are really needing their white canes? And how does he know they aren’t blind – does he hold up fingers and ask how many? When he said that to me, I was speechless. Who does he think he is?
I have already relayed my experience to my friends in the disabled and service animal community. Each of them has their own community and I hope this story will spread like wildfire. I also have other newsletters and accounts and will warn PWD not to bother coming to Hooters because you are not PWD friendly. And for my blind friends… well, I guess they will have to have a note from their physician if they want to come inside.
I cannot explain to you how sick this makes me feel. It is a violation of our civil rights and just as bad as any other hate crime. It’s bigoted and unacceptable. I intend to do everything in my power to make sure it never happens again and I hope you would, too.
Update: July 21, 2012.
It’s been almost one month and I have yet to hear anything back from Hooters. They acknowledged they got my email and then silence. Please boycott this restaurant and if you can, let your friends know of my plight. I am filing a Title III complaint against them as was suggested by the DISABILITY ADVOCACY GROUP OF CALIFORNIA.
Update: July 27, 2012
I got a letter from Hooters last night offering me a free meal. You have GOT to be kidding me! Because the manager was so violent and scared my dog by screaming and slamming the door, Oliver, my lifeline, is traumatized. If a door slams, he runs away. I have a totally useless service dog now. I hope his violent, threatening manner made him feel like a big man, because now, I can’t risk driving or going anywhere with my dog being too scared to perform correctly. I am taking him for some tweaking in his training and HOPE and PRAY that he’s fixable.
UPDATE: WITH A LITTLE MORE TRAINING, OLIVER IS LESS TRAUMATIZED AND DOING HIS JOB FOR ME. I JUST DON’T GO ANYWHERE UNLESS I HAVE TO. I DON’T THINK I WILL EVER BE THE SAME. WE GO TO MEDIATION AS PER THE DOJ. I WILL LET YOU KNOW THE OUTCOME.