City Through Its Police Department Adopts Policy as Part of Settlement of Disability Discrimination Lawsuit
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 16, 2022
The City of Winston-Salem is taking the lead among North Carolina’s largest cities in adopting a policy that ensures Winston-Salem police officers are specifically trained on the laws which protect the rights of people who use service animals.
The City’s new policy settles a lawsuit Disability Rights North Carolina (DRNC) filed against the City last fall. The complaint alleged that officers with the Winston-Salem Police Department forced Wilmer Oliva to leave a store at Hanes Mall or face arrest after a store manager sought to have Oliva removed because he was accompanied by his guide dog Forte. “I need Forte to work, to shop, to navigate my town,” said Mr. Oliva.
The City denied these lawsuit allegations, responding that the officers advised Mr. Oliva that he either needed to leave the store, Jimmy Jazz, voluntarily or face a possible charge of trespass after store management objected to his videotaping customers inside the store. The City specifically denied that the officers told Mr. Oliva that he faced a trespass charge as a result of his use of a service dog. However, the City recognized that a specific policy and training as to service animal laws under the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar North Carolina laws would be beneficial to the City, the Police Department and citizens and visitors.
“We applaud the City of Winston-Salem’s Leadership for taking this systemic approach to protect the rights of disabled people who use service animals,” said Virginia Knowlton Marcus, Chief Executive Officer of Disability Rights North Carolina. “We are thankful for strong advocates, such as Mr. Oliva, who are willing to stand up for their rights. Such courageous advocates improve the lives of other people with disabilities who rely on service animals to participate in their communities.”
“The City of Winston-Salem has long-standing policies in place which prohibit discrimination and which recognize the requirements placed upon the City and its employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act and related State laws,” said City Attorney Angela Carmon. “While we disagree that the officers in this case violated any law or policy, the City is always open to considering additional policies and specific training which may be helpful.”
The new policy, which DRNC believes may be the first of its kind among all municipalities in the state, will provide necessary guidance to WSPD employees who encounter service animals on the job. Service animals play an important role in the disability community, providing work and tasks that help disabled people navigate their surroundings and fully participate in their communities.
The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires public entities like the City to modify its policies and practices to ensure that its employees do not discriminate against people with disabilities who rely on service animals for assistance, including guide dogs. The new service animal policy will help WSPD employees identify when an animal is a service animal, what the requirements are for using a service animal, and the legal protections that exist for people who use service animals.
DRNC attorney Chris Hodgson strongly encourages other cities to follow the City of Winston-Salem’s lead and adopt service animal policies for their police departments. “Police officers need proper training and guidance about the legal protections in place for service animals,” said Hodgson, lead attorney on the case. “We cannot expect them to understand and apply the rights of people with disabilities without understanding service animal laws.”
About the City of Winston-Salem
One of the South’s most progressive cities, Winston-Salem is a combination of two early communities: Salem, with the traditions of its Moravian founders; and Winston, a vigorous industrial center. In 1913, the citizens of Winston and Salem voted to unite under one common government, founded upon cooperation, and formed the City of Winston-Salem. Today, Winston-Salem is known as “The City of Arts and Innovation” and was recently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the 7th best place to retire in the United States.
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.
City of Winston-Salem
Disability Rights North Carolina