International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners

Glad Tidings In Workplace Access Case

Joan Froling

Although it seemed to take forever and a day, I'm delighted to finally bring you the news we've all been waiting for in the access case, Branson v. Lakeside VA Hospital.

Nolan, the yellow Labrador Retriever trained by Paws With A Cause, can finally assume his rightful place at the side of Dr. Chris Branson in the workplace.

After winning the summary judgement in federal district court in May 1999 affirming the paraplegic physician had access rights in the workplace with her service dog as a matter of law, and then the jury award of $400,000 in July 1999, for damages, it was difficult for many of us to understand why Chris could not immediately bring Nolan to work with her. The legal system is complex and the red tape delays are hard to endure, but Chris patiently stuck it out.

In December 1999, Judge Nan Nolan compelled the hospital's attorneys to sit down and work out a satisfactory agreement permitting Nolan to accompany Chris just about anywhere in the hospital she might need to go, except the sterile operating rooms. Before the holidays were upon us, the six year old Labrador Retriever made the transition from a gentleman of leisure, lounging around Chris's apartment all day, to full time working partner.

Chris Branson's refusal to take "no" for an answer and accept the VA's verdict that service dogs are merely an optional lifestyle choice, not something that must be accommodated by an employer, was important to every team out there. This decisive validation of her access rights in federal court and the size of the jury award should send an eloquent message to other employers. We are thankful she persevered in the face of many hardships during her four year civil rights battle.

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