Woman Sues to Bring Service Dog to Work
4-10-2015 21:33:00

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - Kaiser discriminated by not letting an amputee bring her service dog to work, she claims in Alameda County Superior Court.

     Michelle Lewis sued The Permanente Medical Group, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan alleging Fair Employment and Housing Act violations, adverse employment action in violation of public policy and unfair business practices.
     In her lawsuit, Lewis says she has had a leg amputated due to cancer and suffers from arthritis-related lower back pain. She began working for Kaiser as an emergency room technician in 2001 and moved to her current role as a unit assistant in or around 2008, she says. Her job involves administrative support, answering phones, responding to call lights, using an intercom and making patient appointments, she says.
     “Walking and standing (on her remaining leg) can be extremely painful and she must measure her activity level to conserve energy and avoid fatigue. Consequently, she dropped down to working as on-call assistant on a part-time basis,” the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
     Lewis applied for a service dog through an organization called “Canine Companions for Independence,” in the fall of 2010 and was put on a waiting list for a dog in Jan. 2011, according to the complaint. In Dec. 2011 she notified her manager that she would be getting a service dog soon and asked if Kaiser needed any documentation before she cold bring it to work, but did not receive a response, according to the complaint.
     Lewis met her dog, a female Labrador retriever named Angel, in Feb. 2012 and trained with her for about two weeks, according to the complaint. During training she told Kaiser again that she would be getting a service dog and needed to bring it to work, and provided them with a card from Canine Companions documenting that Angel was her service dog, according to the complaint. She brought Angel to work the last weekend of February, according to the complaint.
     Right after that, Human Resources began asking for documentation of Lewis’ need for a service dog, according to the complaint. After Lewis provided two doctor’s notes and had a meeting with HR, Kaiser did not agree that she needed to have Angel with her at work, according to the complaint.
     In response to Lewis’ claim, and her doctor’s note, that bending over and opening heavy doors were hard for her, Kaiser’s HR representative said using a cane and automatic door openers would be “at least as effective,” (Pg. 7, No. 34) as having Angel help Lewis with those activities, according to the complaint.
     Lewis has not been scheduled to work since Feb. 2012, although she and her union representative have made several requests for her to be put back on duty, with Angel, according to the complaint.
     Lewis contends that being separated from Angel would interfere with the bonding, skills reinforcement and continuous training that Angel needs to be effective as a service dog.
     She also claims that patients are allowed to bring service dogs to Kaiser hospitals, that dogs are used for emotional therapy for Kaiser patients and that a service dog works at the infusion center at a Kaiser hospital in Richmond.
     Michelle Lewis seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, payment of lost compensation, compensatory damages for emotional pain and suffering, exemplary and punitive damages, restitution, attorneys’ fees, expert witness fees, litigation costs, interest and a jury trial. She is represented by Jean K. Hyams of Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams and by Celia McGuinness of the Law Office of Paul Rein, both in Oakland.