Updated 12:40 p.m.
A Colorado Springs lawyer who refused to allow a veterinarian and her service dog to enter his law office for a scheduled deposition in a civil action has agreed to pay $50,000 to settle a federal discrimination suit.
The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division filed a complaint (.pdf) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado last November against Patric LeHouillier of LeHouillier & Associates. The suit alleged LeHouillier violated the Americans with Disabilities Act when he refused to allow the woman and her dog—and the woman’s lawyer—to enter the LeHouillier law office in December 2006.
LeHouillier demanded the veterinarian, Joan Murnane, prove her dog, an Australian shepherd, was a certified service dog. According to the suit, LeHouillier was not satisfied after reviewing a letter documenting Murnane’s need for the dog. LeHouillier feared the dog would soil recently installed carpeting, according to the Justice Department complaint. LeHouillier's attorney said in a statement that no documentation of the dog's certification was provided.
Murnane’s attorney, J. Ronald Voss, had earlier offered to hold the deposition at his office about two blocks away, according to the complaint. Justice Department attorneys said LeHouillier rejected the offer to relocate the deposition. LeHouillier's counsel said the deposition was held the same day in the office of Murnane's attorney.
In a consent decree (.pdf), signed March 29, LeHouillier denied he violated the ADA. LeHouillier’s attorney, James Miletich of McConnell Fleischner Houghtaling & Craigmile in Denver, issued a statement that said LeHouillier settled the suit for economic reasons and that he continues to believe the government's position is wrong.
"Unfortunately, the expense involved in defending against the ADA claim would have easily surpassed the monetary demand made by the government," the statement (.pdf) said. "The resources available to the government would have forced Mr. LeHouillier to incur substantial expenses in defending the claim. Consequently, an economic decision was made to resolve the claim."
LeHouillier will pay $30,000 in damages to Murnane; $10,000 to her husband, who was also denied entry; and $10,000 to the government in a civil penalty. Trial attorney William Lynch of the department’s Disability Rights Section signed the consent decree for the government.
As part of the agreement, LeHouillier must also prominently display a sign—“printed in dark bold letters, in a font 26 points or larger in size, on a contrasting white background—that says “Service Animals Welcome."
“For almost two decades, the ADA has ensured that individuals with disabilities are guaranteed full and equal access to public accommodations, both large and small," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “The Justice Department is unrelenting in eradicat[ing] discrimination against people with disabilities and ensuring that owners and operators of public accommodations recognize their obligations to provide equal access.”