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Civil Rights Victory- Service Animals Denied Access To Place of Public Accommodation


We resolved two cases recently involving our clients being denied access to a place of public accommodation because they had a service animal (a service dog) with them. In the first, case, our client and his son were denied access to portions of a large national chain store that had a location in Will County (Bolingbrook, Illinois).  We filed a claim with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and ultimately had a full hearing before an administrative law judge. The judge found in our client’s favor and vindicated his legal rights. In the second case, our clients were denied access with their service dogs to an eating establishment in the Rockford, Illinois area.  As the case was about to get set for a hearing date, the defendant agreed to settle.

Many people perceive people with service dogs as trying to game the system. This is unfortunate.

Service Animal Law

The Illinois Human Rights Act provides in part that: “It is a civil rights violation for any person on the basis of unlawful discrimination to deny or refuse to another the full and equal enjoyment of the facilities, goods, and services of any public place of accommodation.”  775 ILCS 5/5-102(A).  “The Illinois Human Rights Act is remedial legislation that must be liberally construed to effectuate its purpose.” Nuraoka v. Illinois Human Rights Commission, 252 Ill.App.3d 1039, 625 (1st Dist. 1993).

The Department of Justice and the Illinois Attorney General have provided guidance as to the treatment of persons with a service animal.  The Illinois Attorney General has explained:

“Businesses may not demand identification cards or make unnecessary inquiries about an individual’s disability under any circumstances, including when a person is accompanied by a service animal.”

“You may ask whether the animal is a service animal and inquire as to what tasks the service animal has been trained to perform. You may not, however, require identification documents for the animal or ask about the person’s disability.”

The Department of Justice explains that the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) prohibits seeking qualification papers and provides that “documentation generally may not be required as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanies by a service animal.” It further explains that:

“Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars and harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers. If you are not certain that an animal is a service animal, you may ask the person who has the animal if it is a service animal required because of a disability. However, an individual who is going to a restaurant or theater is not likely to be carrying documentation of his or her medical condition or disability. Therefore, such documentation generally may not be required as a condition for providing service to an individual accompanied by a service animal. Although a number of states have programs to certify service animals, you may not insist on proof of state certification before permitting the service animal to accompany the person with a disability.” added)

While the IHRA does not define a service animal,  several other statutes do:  the Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act, 510 ILCS 70/2.01(c) (“Service animal” means an animal trained in obedience and task skills to meet the needs of a person with a disability”); Illinois Criminal Code, 720 ILCS 5/48-8 (“For the purposes of this Section, ‘service animal’ means a dog or miniature horse trained or being trained as a hearing animal, a guide animal, an assistance animal, a seizure alert animal, a mobility animal, a psychiatric service animal, an autism service animal, or an animal trained for any other physical, mental, or intellectual disability”); Illinois School Code, 105 ILCS 5/14-6.02 (“Service animals such as guide dogs, signal dogs or any other animal individually trained to perform tasks for the benefit of a student with a disability shall be permitted to accompany that student at all school functions, whether in or outside the classroom. For the purposes of this Section, “service animal” has the same meaning as in Section 48-8 of the Criminal Code of 2012”).