A cab driver, who claims he suffers from cynophobia (a fear of dogs) and who refused to pick up a blind customer with a service dog, has filed a federal lawsuit against his employer for discrimination on account of his disability after he was fired.
The story of the incident was well-documented last year in a various media outlets, including a story on NBC Connecticut. In that report, Ahmad is quoted as saying the he understood that picking up people with service dogs was part of the job, but still refused to do so anyways because he is afraid of dogs.
I knew he was a blind man and that I am supposed to take him. Absolutely, I am supposed to take him. But what would have happened if I had crashed on the highway? It would have been very bad,” Ahmad said.
Assuming that the plaintiff has a cognizable disability under the ADAAA, the case at first blush seems to put one disability against another. Does a patron’s need for a service dog trump an employee’s fear of dogs?
But its more than merely a patron’s “need”. Indeed, the law mandates that guests with service dogs be permitted in all modes of public transportation. Refusal to do so is a misdemeanor.
The U.S. Department of Justice has a recently released guidance on service dogs too. The guidance speaks directly to the issue of fear of dogs.
Allergies and fear of dogs are not valid reasons for denying access or refusing service to people using service animals. When a person who is allergic to dog dander and a person who uses a service animal must spend time in the same room or facility, for example, in a school classroom or at a homeless shelter, they both should be accommodated by assigning them, if possible, to different locations within the room or different rooms in the facility.
So perhaps the case will also look at another ADA issue: Is picking up a passenger with a service dog an “essential” part of the job? Given the legal requirement noted above, it would seem so. And if the cab driver couldn’t do this “essential” function because of his disability with or without a reasonable accommodation, he may not be able to seek protection under the ADA.
We’ve seen a few more cases lately where employees claim that their phobia (say, for example, a fear of bridges) afford them some protection. If you have that situation, be sure to review the case from an ADA perspective to ensure that you’re in compliance with the law.