Man says he was kicked out of restaurant over service dog

by: Diana Davis Updated:

The Popeye's on Windy Hill Road called police when the manager claimed customers didn't like the dog in the restaurant.

COBB COUNTY, Ga. - A Fulton County man with diabetes who was kicked out of a Cobb County restaurant has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.

Taylor Gipson has diabetes. His service dog, Bear, is trained to alert Gipson when his blood sugar problems are about to cause a seizure. Bear, a British lab, can sense when Gipson's condition is about to cause medical problems.

"What Bear does, is he can smell my blood sugar and let me know before that happens, to keep me safe," Gipson told Channel 2's Diana Davis.

When Gipson's blood sugar started to drop on Saturday, he and Bear went into the Popeye's on Windy Hill Road to get a sweet tea.

Gipson said the manager kicked him and Bear out, telling him customers didn't like the dog.

"Very quickly and rudely, and asked me if it was a Seeing Eye dog and I told her no that he was a service dog. She just said, 'I don't care, you need to leave. Get out of my restaurant," Gipson said.

The manager of the restaurant then called Cobb police.

Gipson said he tried to show the officer a card explaining disabilities and service dogs.

"He refused to look at the card and he said, 'I know the law. Get that out of my face,' was actually exactly what he said," Gipson told Davis.

Cobb police refused to respond on camera or in writing about the incident.  The police report confirms the officer told Gipson, "Popeye's was private property and he would have to leave."

Gipson's mother, Cathy, told Davis she was shocked by the officer's reaction.

"I tried to present the officer with the law as well and he told me he knew the law but this was private property and the dog had to leave," Cathy Gipson said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990 applies even to privately owned businesses that serve the public, including restaurants and hotels.

The ADA  allows the disabled to bring service animals onto the premises in whatever areas customers are allowed, unless the dog is not harnessed, leashed, out of control or housebroken.

Myra Creighton is a lawyer with the Atlanta law firm of Fisher and Phillips, which specializes in disability cases. She told Davis if, or when, the Justice Department brings a lawsuit against an alleged violator of the ADA, the penalties can be stiff.

"A penalty of $50,000 can be imposed for the first violation and the Department of Justice can request the court to reward the person monetary damages," Creighton said.

The Popeye's on Windy Hill Road is independently owned. The manger would not comment on the incident.  The national chain based in Atlanta sent Davis a statement saying, "Through our investigation, we have learned that we serve that particular guest with the service dog regularly at that location without incident.  It appears that on his most recent visit, a family came in with small children who were frightened by the dog as the guest and the dog were seated directly by the entrance. 

"The parents were concerned for their children and apparently confronted the guest.  The two parties engaged in a heated conversation, which quickly escalated, requiring the manager on duty to contact the police to intervene.

"The police ultimately asked the guest and his service dog to leave the premises." 

"We routinely welcome guests with service animals to our locations and regret that the two parties had a disagreement at our restaurant on that occasion.  We always strive to provide the very best service to our guests and encourage our employees and guests to be respectful of everyone and to comply with all regulations at all times."

Meanwhile, Ms. Gipson insists her son never ate at the restaurant before and claims of a family confronting him are false.

"There was no "heated conversation" nor any conversation with any family or other customers," Ms. Gipson stated in an email to Davis.

The Gipsons told Davis they have filed a complaint with the Department of Justice.

Estimates from the ADA show there are about 15,000 service dogs in the U.S. They are trained to assist, not just as guide dogs for the blind, but assist for everything to seizures, psychiatric conditions, hearing and mobility.