Court Orders Global Plasma Company To Continue To Allow Use Of Service Animal During Plasma Donation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 28, 2023
A federal judge has ruled that a leading plasma company violated well-established civil rights laws when they forbade a visually-impaired Asheville woman from having her service dog assist her throughout the plasma donation process. As a result of the lawsuit, the plasma company must allow Emily Bartell to have her dog guide throughout her plasma donation appointments.
U.S. Middle District Court Judge William L. Osteen Jr. granted a permanent injunction against the plasma company, saying the company violated Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act when it prohibited Ms. Bartell from having assistance from her service dog while donating plasma. The judge said the plasma company did not support its claims that the service animal was a threat to the health or safety of Ms. Bartell or others at the plasma donation center, or that foreign regulators compelled the prohibition. Ms. Bartell and the plasma company have reached a settlement of Ms. Bartell’s demand for monetary damages and attorney’s fees and costs associated with her lawsuit.
“I am thankful the judge vindicated my right to have my dog guide with me,” said Emily Bartell. “It has been a difficult and painful experience to be separated from my dog guide, who I rely on to navigate the world and trust with my life. Now I can donate plasma with confidence.” Ms. Bartell’s dog guide is a highly-trained golden retriever provided by the Seeing Eye©.
Following the Court’s Order granting Ms. Bartell a preliminary injunction, the defendant changed its service animal policy to comply with the Court’s order and permitted Ms. Bartell to donate with the assistance of her service animal. Later, the defendant voluntarily changed its policy again to grant Ms. Bartell’s request that the service animal be allowed on the donor floor, as a result of this litigation. “Service animals are important tools that allow people with disabilities to confidently and independently participate in our communities. We are thrilled that the final outcome of the case requires defendant to follow the law and ensures Ms. Bartell is not separated from her dog guide.” said Elizabeth Myerholtz, an attorney with Disability Rights NC who worked on the case.
Ms. Bartell also sued the defendant over their check-in process for plasma donors. Sighted plasma donors can check in for their appointments at a kiosk, which Ms. Bartell is unable to use because the computers do not include features that make electronic information accessible to disabled individuals. The judge said that defendant’s practice of reading the check-in forms to Ms. Bartell was sufficient and complied with the law. The judge also found that the defendant’s service animal policies were not deliberately indifferent to Ms. Bartell’s rights.
“We were disappointed by the judge’s ruling that Ms. Bartell was not entitled to check in at the kiosk like all other plasma donors,” said Holly Stiles, Assistant Legal Director for Litigation at Disability Rights NC. “However, after the lawsuit started, the plasma company released a check-in app that Ms. Bartell has downloaded to her phone and has been able to use to check in for her plasma donation appointments. Additionally, we were excited to learn of proposed rules recently issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that would require kiosks, like the ones used by the defendant, to be fully accessible and usable by the disability community in the near future.”
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.