Michael Turner says hotel denied him room because of seeing-eye dog.
by Brent Frazier
Clarksville, TENN. - Michael Turner, a senior at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is back in his native middle Tennessee for what he hopes will be his last courtroom encounter with the motel clerk who, according to him, discriminated against him by denying him a motel room because he had a dog with him.
"I feel like I've been treated like a second class citizen since that day," Turner told NewsChannel 5 on Sunday afternoon. Turner, his wife, Miranda; and 3-year-old son, Michael; are back home in Montgomery County for a Tuesday morning court hearing in their civil case against Becky Jo McHughes, the front desk clerk at the Microtel Inn and Suites that fateful day; the woman who was slapped with a $50, misdemeanor citation for allegedly violating Turner's civil rights by turning away his family and their dog, Amberz. You see, Amberz was a service animal, a guide dog, because Michael Turner is completely blind.
"I'm filing a civil suit against Microtel Inn and Suites and also have an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) complaint with the Department of Justice," Turner said.
Turner said this will mark his third trip back to Montgomery County to try to resolve this issue that began to unfold August 10, 2009.
The managing attorney at the Disability Law and Advocacy Center of Tennessee, Martha M. Lafferty, could not comment on the Turner case per se, but she was willing to talk in generalities when NewsChannel 5 first broke the story last February.
"Hotels are required to allow people who use service animals to bring those service animals with them," said Lafferty.
Turner said Microtel staffers likely thought his dog, Amberz, was really a pet. Turner has leaned on assistance from guide dogs, like Amberz, since 1999 when a motorcycle crash in Clarksville claimed his eyesight.
"Service animals are not pets, ever," said Lafferty. "Service animals are like wheelchairs. You wouldn't refuse somebody in a wheelchair. So, why would you refuse somebody with a service animal?"
The Center advises people with disabilities, who feel they are being discriminated against, to call authorities and file a police report. That's exactly what Turner did last year.
"I did have a restaurant once where I did have to call the police," said Tricia Griggs, senior advocate for the Disability Law and Advocacy Center of Tennessee. "Another one where I was on the phone, calling the police."
Griggs teaches tolerance and sensitivity to the corporate world regarding people with disabilities.
The front desk employee who allegedly denied Turner a room is Becky Jo McHughes of Clarksville. Neither the management nor the owner of the building on Holiday Drive returned NewsChannel 5 phone calls. Microtel corporate failed to comment, but did try to encourage the owner to contact NewsChannel 5 regarding the controversy.
"This type of discrimination has got to stop," said Turner in an earlier interview. "I do not want anyone ever to feel like I felt the day, when I went into that hotel and had my disability smack me straight in the face, and felt like less of a person because of my disability."
A misdemeanor charge was leveled against hotel clerk Becky Jo McHughes, though it's not much more serious than a speeding ticket.
Turner is hopeful the Tuesday court proceeding will bring finality, and more importantly peace of mind.
"It was about principle," Turner said. "And about my personal civil rights. It's never been about the money. It's about the principle, and what I stand for."