Stories & Grievances
The Southern District U.S. Attorney Sues Orange County Law Firm Larkin, Axelrod, Ingrassia & Tetenbaum and Partner John Ingrassia For Title III ADA Violations
The suit (See Complaint) alleges that Larkin, Axelrod, Ingrassia & Tetenbaum and partner John Ingrassia violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act when they refused to let a client, Lauren Klejmont, enter the office with Reicha, her German shepherd. Title III prohibits providers of public accommodations, including law firms, from discriminating against disabled customers. Under Title III, businesses that do not allow pets must make an exception for service animals.
U.S. Sues Firm for Barring Disabled Client's Service Dog
Brendan Pierson, New York Law Journal, November 09, 2011
The Southern District U.S. Attorney has sued an Orange County law firm for allegedly discriminating against the disabled by refusing to allow a client to enter its offices with her service dog.
The suit (See Complaint) alleges that Larkin, Axelrod, Ingrassia & Tetenbaum and partner John Ingrassia violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act when they refused to let a client, Lauren Klejmont, enter the office with Reicha, her German shepherd.
Title III prohibits providers of public accommodations, including law firms, from discriminating against disabled customers. Under Title III, businesses that do not allow pets must make an exception for service animals.
"The notion that a law firm and a partner in the firm would so flagrantly violate such a clear and well-established law, as was alleged in this case, is disturbing," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. "Of all people, lawyers should know better. Individuals with disabilities are entitled to the same access to private businesses as everyone else, and it should be understood loud and clear that we will not tolerate discriminatory conduct."
According to the complaint in United States v. Larkin Axelrod, 11-cv-08003, filed yesterday in federal court in White Plains, Ms. Klejmont suffers from seizures and problems with balance and memory as a result of a spine and head injury. She has limited motor function and uses a cane and leg brace. She also has Reicha, who picks up and carries things for her, detects her seizures and helps her stand up when she falls, according to the complaint.
Ms. Klejmont hired Larkin Axelrod in 2007 to represent her in a personal injury suit. In January 2009, she went to the firm's Newburgh office to meet with her attorneys, Mr. Ingrassia and another lawyer, Gerald J. Marino, who has since left the firm.
The lawyers met her in the waiting room, but refused to let her inside with Reicha and asked her to leave the dog outside, according to the suit.
Ms. Klejmont explained that she needed the dog because of her disability, but the lawyers continued to insist that she could not bring the dog inside, saying that Mr. Ingrassia was allergic to dogs. They also rejected her suggestion to hold the meeting in a conference room instead of in Mr. Ingrassia's office, the complaint said.
After the encounter, Ms. Klejmont sent the firm a letter complaining of her treatment.
Mr. Ingrassia wrote back that he had not known that Ms. Klejmont had a service dog when he scheduled the meeting and could not have the dog in his office because of his allergies. He said he would arrange to hold future meetings in a different room.
Despite that promise, two letters from Mr. Marino in January 2010 show that the firm allegedly continued not to accommodate Ms. Klejmont's disability. Mr. Marino said he would meet with Ms. Klejmont only if she did not bring Reicha, or if they met in the firm's parking lot and Reicha stayed in Ms. Klejmont's car during the meeting, according to the complaint.
Mr. Bharara is asking for an injunction requiring Larkin Axelrod to accommodate Ms. Klejmont's dog and other service animals, monetary damages to compensate Ms. Klejmont for the discrimination she experienced and a civil penalty.
A spokesman for the law firm said it was reviewing the complaint and declined to comment.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Byars represents the government. The case has been assigned to Southern District Judge Vincent Bricceti.