Waikiki hotel slammed for discrimination against wounded combat vet

Published: Jul. 18, 2013 at 4:55 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 18, 2013 at 10:42 PM HST
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WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Waikiki hotel is accused of discriminating against a combat veteran and his service dog. The army soldier claims management challenged his service dog's status and said if he stayed, he would have to avoid all public areas. Now the Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach is being slammed on social media after the allegations went viral online.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, privately owned businesses, like hotels, are required to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals in any area customers are generally allowed, but one Army vet says that wasn't the case when he tried to check in at the Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach Hotel on Monday.

Thousands of people have shared, commented and expressed outrage, after a post on Facebook accused an Assistant General Manager at the hotel of questioning the vet's service dog's status and attempting to limit his access within the hotel.

"You know, you wouldn't take away someone's wheelchair just because you didn't think there was enough space for them to get down the aisle. You make room. You do what you could to assist them. A dog is no different," explained the vet's friend, Pete Peterson, over the phone from Louisiana. He posted about the incident on the Precision Rifle Enthusiast group page, which has since been picked up by dozens of other group pages and individuals and shared thousands of times.

According to the post, the vet – who Hawai'i News Now is not identifying to protect his privacy – says the Assistant General Manager told him quote: "I can't tell you you can't stay here, but I will tell you I don't like it".

The ADA defines a service animal as a dog trained to work for people with a disabilities – whether they're visually or hearing impaired or suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"They're not pets and they're not comfort or therapy animals but they actually provide a legitimate task for somebody with a disability," said Francine Wai, the Executive Director of the Disability and Communication Access Board.

Wai isn't familiar with the specifics of this case, but says ADA requirements allow only two questions about service dogs – if the dog is required because of a disability and what task the dog is trained to perform. It's illegal to ask about the nature of the disability or demand proof.

According to his lawyer, the vet was so upset about the way he and his family were treated they checked out the very next day – even though they had a two week reservation.

"My client looks forward to working with Hyatt to craft a solution which resolves the current issue, prevents future occurrences, and raises awareness in support of our veterans with combat-related disabilities and the service dogs who support and assist them," wrote the vet's attorney, Joseph Patrick Waters, who is based out of Oceanside, California.

"The facts concerning the incident which occurred on Monday, July 15 at the Hyatt Place Waikiki are still under investigation. My client appreciates the support for not only himself, his family and service dog, but for all members of the armed forces, past and present, whether disabled or not. My client would ask that his privacy continue to be respected, and that the legal processes in place to resolve these issues be allowed to run their course," Waters wrote.

After hundreds of complaints, the Hyatt responded on its Facebook page with an apology and says it issued the vet a full refund.

"Our goal is to make each guest at Hyatt feel more than welcome, and we sincerely apologize for not providing that experience in this situation."

The Hyatt statement went on to say: "We require all Hyatt hotels to follow federal and local laws, which includes providing access to service animals throughout all guest areas of the property. Local hotel management is working to address the guest's concern about this specific situation and will use this experience to reiterate our policy with all Hyatt hotels. In any instance where an associate is found in violation of policies, we take action to address the situation with that associate. In this case, as in all cases involving personnel matters, we are to unable discuss details publicly. Please know that our commitment to our ourselves and our guests is to try to make things right for the guest and ensure that any violations are handled appropriately.

We have a deep appreciation for military veterans and their families, and we are proud that many veterans are our colleagues in the Hyatt family."

Peterson says he hopes his Facebook post will raise an awareness about a consistent problem he's heard shared by fellow service members.

"This is a widespread issue that's affecting so many of our disabled vets, and so I put it out on our page hoping that people would get behind it, not so much as a disabled vet thing but just – we've got someone with a service dog who is disabled and here they are getting read a riot act by some guy at a hotel when all they're trying to do is get checked in," explained Peterson.

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