Litigation – Pledger v. SAS Transportation
Jeff and Suzanne Pledger love to go on cruises. Jeff is blind and he uses a guide dog named Joelle. As an advocate for persons with visual impairment, Jeff is the past President of Verizon’s Disabilities Issues Awareness Leaders (DIAL), which provides support and resources to Verizon’s employees with disabilities. As part of his accomplishments, he was part of the task force to develop the 1996 Telecommunications Act. This Act provided many benefits to people with disabilities. For example, this work force was instrumental in developing cell phones that are easier to use by people who have low vision and hearing loss.
Jeff and Suzanne have been on a number of cruises, and on January 13, 2014, they flew into the Ft. Lauderdale Airport for a five day cruise departing out of the Port of Miami. Prior to the flight, the Pledgers contacted SAS Transportation, Inc. for transportation to the cruise ship and, as a courtesy, they disclosed to the transportation company that there would be a service dog included in the requested trip.
The owner of the transportation services declined the transportation request because there is no room on the vehicle for a service dog and it would make other passengers uncomfortable. He suggested they would need to arrange a private shuttle. The Pledgers attempted to educate the owner of SAS regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act and state statutes requiring equal access to individuals with disabilities with service dogs, but the owner would not bend, and wrote back:
“I respectfully decline your request as my vans are not set for animals even service dogs and with how heavily reserved we are and the vans being full it is not in the best interest of my vehicle to transport your request. I apologize but I do have the choice if I decide to turn down a request especially if I feel the situation is uncomfortable for all of my passengers. There is just no room for a dog in the shuttle vans because our vans are full and the vans have no extra room for a dog.”
The Pledgers requested assistance from Disability Rights Florida, Florida’s federally-mandated protection and advocacy system that provides legal and other services to persons with disabilities. An advocate reached out to the owner and attempted to educate on the requirements of the ADA, but again was ignored.
On June 17, 2014, Disability Independence Group joined Disability Rights Florida to sue SAS Transportation on behalf of Jeffrey Pledger to ensure that SAS Transportation would not discriminate against persons who use service dogs, and just four months later, obtained a settlement agreement that ensured adequate policies, training, and notice to customers that SAS was going to allow persons with service dogs to travel in their vehicles.