For Immediate Release - December 10, 2014

Boston Restaurants Agree to Change Policies Following Disability Discrimination Claims

AG’s Office Alleges Sweetwater Tavern and 7 Pond Coffee Bar Refused Service to Disabled Patron Accompanied by a Service Animal; Restaurants Agree to Pay Compensation

BOSTON – Two Boston-area restaurants have agreed to adopt antidiscrimination policies to resolve allegations that they denied a patron admission because she was accompanied by a service animal, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today. The restaurants will also pay up to $5,000 in compensation and in costs to the Commonwealth. 

“Service animals are a vital tool for individuals with disabilities,” AG Coakley said. “Massachusetts businesses must understand they cannot exclude disabled individuals from places of public accommodation.”

According to the two assurances of discontinuance, filed today in Suffolk Superior Court, Sweetness Entertainment, Inc. (d/b/a Sweetwater Tavern) refused service to a woman with a service dog in January 2014, first telling her she could not sit in the bar area and later telling her she could not sit anywhere in the restaurant. Café Fixe, Inc. (d/b/a 7 Pond Coffee Bar) denied admission to the same individual in April 2014, forcing her to leave the establishment because she had her service dog with her. 

An employee of Sweetwater Tavern and the owner of 7 Pond Coffee Bar also unlawfully asked the patron to produce certification for the dog, even though no certification process exists. Places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, are not permitted to ask for certification.

Under the terms of the settlements, Sweetwater Tavern and 7 Pond Coffee Bar will be prohibited from future discrimination against patrons with service animals or disabilities. Both establishments have also agreed to adopt an antidiscrimination policy and distribute the policy to their staff members.

Sweetwater Tavern will pay $3,500 and 7 Pond Coffee Bar will pay up to $1,500 to compensate the victim and to reimburse the Commonwealth for costs incurred during the investigation. In addition, the owner of 7 Pond Coffee Bar has agreed to attend training on state and federal public accommodations law.

The AG’s Office continues to receive complaints about businesses turning away disabled individuals using service animals because of a mistaken understanding of the law. To educate the community, the AG’s Office is offering some information on the laws surrounding service animals in places of public accommodation:

  • It is important to remember that an individual may have a disability even if that disability is not open and obvious. For example, some servicemembers and veterans are prescribed service animals to treat Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  
  • Service animals are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Massachusetts General Law, among other laws. These laws require businesses to allow individuals accompanied by service animals into places of public accommodation like restaurants, hotels, and stores, regardless of sanitary or health codes. 
  • To differentiate between pets and service animals, businesses can ask the person with a disability if the animal is a service animal required because of a disability. They can also ask what tasks the animal has been trained to perform. Businesses may not inquire about the individual’s disability.
  • Currently, there is no state or national certification available for service animals so businesses are not permitted to inquire if the animal is licensed or certified or whether the animal has papers identifying him or her as a service animal.

For more information about service animals generally, visit the Attorney General’s website or call the Civil Rights Division at (617) 963-2939. 

These matters were handled by Jonathan Miller, Chief of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division, and Kimberly Strovink, a Mediator/Legal Analyst in AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.