Asheville Location of Global Plasma Company Sued for Disability Discrimination
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 16, 2021
A blind Asheville woman who donated plasma accompanied by her service dog twice a week for two years was suddenly stopped from bringing her service dog with her to the plasma donation floor following a change in “corporate policy” that violates well-established civil rights law, according to a federal lawsuit filed today.
Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC) filed the lawsuit on behalf of Emily Bartell, who depends on her highly-trained Seeing Eye® dog to navigate the world safely and independently. Ms. Bartell and her golden retriever service animal were matched in 2015. Since then, the service animal has accompanied her without incident everywhere, including during routine quarterly blood draws and other health care appointments.
But in December 2020, after Grifols took over the operation of a plasma donation facility on Tunnel Road in Asheville, staff told Ms. Bartell her service animal could no longer accompany her to the donation floor. Staff also ignored Ms. Bartell’s requests to have written materials in an accessible format, such as Braille or accessible electronic format. The corporation continues to maintain inaccessible check-in kiosks that prevent Ms. Bartell from checking herself in for her plasma donation appointments. Instead, she must give private information orally to a staff member, within earshot of other donors.
Ms. Bartell said she was startled when staff told her she couldn’t bring her dog guide with her to donate plasma after she’d been regularly donating for so long without any problems. Combined with having to give private information where others could hear it, she felt humiliated. “Other donors are allowed to go through the process independently and with dignity. But because I am blind, I was treated differently,” Bartell said. “My hope is this lawsuit will result in change that will allow plasma donors with disabilities to donate with their dignity and humanity intact.”
Elizabeth Myerholtz, a DRNC attorney representing Bartell, agrees. “Denying a blind person the use of their guide dog is equivalent to denying a sighted person the use of their eyes. Forcing blind plasma donors to divulge personal medical information to others to check in for their appointment, when sighted donors complete the process privately and independently at a kiosk, is not only invasive, it’s discriminatory,” Myerholtz said. “When organizations discriminate like this, they ignore decades of civil rights law and treat people with disabilities as though their independence and privacy are less important than that of nondisabled persons.”
Grifols was not responsive to DRNC’s efforts to resolve its ongoing discrimination against Ms. Bartell out-of-court. Instead, Grifols reiterated its policy of excluding service animals and again ignored Ms. Bartell’s request for accessible written materials. DRNC’s complaint seeks a court order stating that Grifols and its affiliates violated Ms. Bartell’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act. In addition, the lawsuit asks the judge to require Grifols to change its policies and procedures to permit service animals to assist disabled people throughout the plasma donation process and to make its kiosks and other written materials accessible to blind donors. Finally, the lawsuit asks the judge to order Grifols to train its staff on the new policies.
Grifols is the second-largest collector of human plasma in the world. Its affiliates, Biomat USA Inc. and Interstate Blood Bank Inc., are also named as defendants in the lawsuit.
About Disability Rights North Carolina
Disability Rights North Carolina is the federally mandated protection and advocacy system in North Carolina, dedicated to advancing the rights of all people with disabilities, of all ages, statewide. DRNC is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a member of the National Disability Rights Network. Learn more about Disability Rights North Carolina at disabilityrightsnc.org.