(NEW YORK) — An Iraq War veteran is suing KFC for $1 million after an employee allegedly shooed him away for having a service dog by his side.
Army National Guard Sergeant Charles Hernandez, 50, said he stopped by a KFC in the Bronx, N.Y., before a scheduled meeting with his counselor at the local Vet Center in February. Accompanying him was his “furry animal buddy” Valor, a 4-year-old Labrador retriever and Great Dane mix assigned to Hernandez to treat symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after a year-long stint in Iraq.
The two were waiting in line when the clerk allegedly told Hernandez that no dogs were allowed in the establishment, according to the lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Manhattan federal court.
In addition to a vest that reads “service dog, do not pet,” Hernandez referenced the Americans with Disabilities Act, which permits service animals in public places. But the employee persisted in giving the life-long New Yorker the boot, Hernandez said. Now, six months later, Hernandez has filed a $1 million lawsuit for violating anti-discriminatory statues on federal, state and city levels.
“I was hungry and I had to take my medication,” Hernandez told ABC News. ”It made me feel like I didn’t belong, like I didn’t deserve.”
Hernandez reached out to attorney David Lackowitz, who had represented Hernandez in a similar case in 2011 against McDonald’s. The terms of the settlement in that case were undisclosed. The two had previously worked as a volunteers with a veterans group focused on animal-soldier rehabilitation programs.
“You have these soldiers who go off to war zones and oftentimes come back disabled with a type of disability invisible to the eye,” Lackowitz told ABC News. “One of the things that are profoundly helpful are service dogs. They come back and they are treated by these establishments in a discriminatory fashion. It’s very unfortunate.”
Hernandez has a history of venerable public service. He was honored by the Department of Defense in October 2007 for being one of the first 9/11 responders, according to the DOD website. When he wasn’t on duty, the father of three worked as an assistant principal in the Bronx, he said. The suit claims that Hernandez is “awaiting receipt of the Bronze Star,” and has previously been honored as grand marshal of the Bronx Puerto Rican Day Parade, according the New York Post.
A KFC spokesman issued a statement to ABC News on Thursday in response to the lawsuit.
“Like all Americans, the KFC family has the utmost respect and admiration for the heroes who serve in our armed forces, and we are committed to abiding by all federal laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act. We expect our franchisees to do the same, and the owner of this restaurant is actively investigating this report,” the spokesman said.
No official hearing date has been scheduled for the case.
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