Washington Court Rules Firefighter’s Service Dog Does Not Need To Be Examined

The US District Court for the Western District of Washington has ruled that a firefighter who sought an accommodation to have a service dog accompany him to work at the firehouse, must himself submit to a psychological exam to confirm his PTSD condition, but his dog need not submit to a service dog evaluation.

Abraham Meyer filed suit against the City of Chehalis last year alleging disability discrimination and retaliation under the American’s with Disabilities Act and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination (WLAD). The suit claims that Meyer was advised to bring the dog with him to the fire station by his doctor.

Meyer was reprimand for bringing the dog to work on January 7, 2019, and then prohibited from doing so again. He contends that having his dog with him is a reasonable accommodation for his PTSD, and that the city is unable to show an undue hardship.

The city sought a court order to send Meyer for a psychiatric exam, and his dog for an evaluation to determine if it was indeed a service animal. As to the first issue, Meyer countered that he had already submitted to a city-mandated psychiatric examination, which largely agreed with his own doctor that he legitimately has PTSD, was able to perform the essential functions of being a firefighter, and that having the service dog with him would aid him in being able to continue to perform those essential functions.

The court ruled in favor of the city, indicating that Meyer “put his mental health in controversy in this case,” and that the city has a right to have an updated evaluation since it had been over a year since he was last seen.

As for the second issue: evaluating his canine, the court ruled in Meyer’s favor concluding that whether the dog was certified as a service animal or not was irrelevant to whether the city failed to reasonably accommodate his request. Quoting from the decision:

  • The City seeks to have their expert, Shannon Walker, evaluate Plaintiff’s service dogs because “[o]therwise, the trier of fact will be limiting [sic] to hearing plaintiff’s testimony on what, if anything, the dogs have been trained to do, without any meaningful ability to discern whether this is factually true.”
  • The Court is not aware of any cases where a party has sought to compel another party’s service dog to sit for an examination.
  • Under WLAD, an employee claiming a reasonable accommodation bears the burden of proving “that (1) she suffered from a disability, (2) she was qualified to do the job in question, (3) she gave notice of the disability to her employer, and (4) the employer failed to reasonably accommodate the disability.”
  • The ADA similarly “treats the failure to provide a reasonable accommodation as an act of discrimination if the employee is a ‘qualified individual,’ the employer receives adequate notice, and a reasonable accommodation is available that would not place an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.”
  • The ADA does not require an employer to disprove an employee’s proposed reasonable accommodation.
  • Rather, an employer must establish why the proposed reasonable accommodation constitutes an undue hardship.
  • The Court finds that subjecting Plaintiff’s current service dog or dogs to an examination to determine “what, if anything, the dog(s) is/are trained to do for his PTSD” is not relevant nor proportional to the needs of the case.
  • Under the ADA, the City must prove that accommodating Plaintiff’s service dog or dogs constitutes an undue hardship. Whether Plaintiff’s specific service dog is trained as a service animal sheds little light on whether the use of a trained service animal would constitute an undue hardship.
  • The Court, at this time, fails to see how evaluating Plaintiff’s current service dog will help the Court answer this ultimate question or support the City’s defenses.
  • Evaluating Plaintiff’s current service dogs will not shed light on the training of his prior service dog at the time of the City’s initial denial of Plaintiff’s reasonable accommodation request.
  • Additionally, Plaintiff need not use his current service dog as part of any future reasonable accommodation reached with the City.
  • Indeed, the focus on a specific service dog’s training appears to be an implicit concession by the City that a service dog trained to their standards could constitute a reasonable accommodation. The Court therefore DENIES the City’s motion to compel an evaluation of Plaintiff’s current service dog.

Here is a copy of the decision:

Here is a copy of the original complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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