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Manhattan U.S. Attorney Settles Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Orange County Law Firm For Discrimination Againt Client On The Basis Of Disability

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday June 28, 2012

Firm Had Denied Access to Its Office Because of Her Service Dog

Preet Bharara,  the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that the United States has settled a civil rights lawsuit against the Orange County law firm LARKIN, AXELROD, INGRASSIA AND TETENBAUM, LLP (“LARKIN, AXELROD”) and firm partner JOHN INGRASSIA (“INGRASSIA”) alleging discrimination on the basis of disability.  LARKIN, AXELROD, which has offices in Newburgh and Middletown, New York, and INGRASSIA are alleged to have unlawfully discriminated against their client, Lauren Klejmont (“Klejmont), on the basis of her disability, in violation of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“Title III”), when they refused to meet with her in their offices because she was accompanied by a service animal.  The settlement, in the form of a Consent Decree, was approved today by United States District Judge Vincent L. Briccetti sitting in White Plains federal court. 

According to the Complaint filed in the White Plains federal court on November 8, 2011: 

In 2007, Klejmont retained LARKIN, AXELROD to represent her in connection with a personal injury lawsuit.  Klejmont is an individual with a disability under Title III, having sustained injuries to her central nervous system.  As a result of her disability, Klejmont uses a service animal, a dog, that is trained to perform crucial tasks for her, including picking up and carrying things for her and helping her to stand up when she falls.  In January 2009, Klejmont arrived at the LARKIN, AXELROD office in Newburgh to discuss her lawsuit, and INGRASSIA and an associate at the firm refused to meet her because she was accompanied by her service animal, and requested that she leave the service animal outside.  In January 2010, the same associate wrote to Klejmont to ask her to come to the firm’s office to sign documents, but instructed her not to bring the service animal to the meeting.  Alternatively, he offered to meet her in the firm’s parking lot as long as the dog remained in the car.

In the Consent Decree entered earlier today, defendants stipulated to certain facts, including that LARKIN, AXELROD did not have a service animal policy in place through January 2009 or later.

Title III of the ADA prohibits discrimination by lawyers, doctors, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, retail stores, private transportation providers and other private businesses and nonprofit organizations that provide services to the public.  All of these entities are prohibited from excluding individuals with disabilities from their facilities, services and programs because they use service animals.  If any of these entities has a rule excluding pets or other animals, it must make an exception to that rule and permit an individual with a disability to be accompanied by a service animal.

The Consent Decree filed today requires LARKIN, AXELROD to take necessary steps to prevent and remedy future discrimination on the basis of disability, particularly against individuals who use service animals, to provide $20,000 to Klejmont in compensatory damages, and to pay a civil penalty of $5,000 to the United States.

Mr. Bharara thanked the New York State Division of Human Rights for its assistance in this case. 

This case is being handled by the Civil Rights Unit.  Assistant United States Attorney Michael J. Byars is in charge of the case.     

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