A Tri-City native says she has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice after a local business refused to serve her, apparently because she was accompanied by a service dog that helps her manage anxiety related to her military service.
The spa’s owner disputes the claim.
Taylor Smith, 20, said she and a cousin headed to the Orchard Spa nail salon in Kennewick recently to mark her return to civilian life after serving in the Marine Corps with a festive set of nails.
Smith said her cousin went ahead to make the appointments while she briefly walked her therapy dog, Rocco. Rocco is an American bulldog that wears a service dog vest, is registered and is authorized by a letter signed by Taylor’s California physician.
When she and Rocco entered the salon a few moments later, an employee told her “no dogs.”
She explained that Rocco is an authorized service dog and helps manage Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related to her service as a firefighter in the military, she said. She told him the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, covers her situation.
“He said, ‘We don’t have time,’ ” she recalled.
Her cousin stood up from where she was getting her nails done and the women departed.
I’m a civilian now. I’m a girly girl and I’m going to get my nails done.
Taylor Smith, 20, Marine Corps veteran
She filed an online complaint under the Americans With Disabilities Act with the federal agency’s Disability Rights Section shortly after the incident, and received confirmation and a case number.
Thuy Bui, owner of Orchid Spa, wasn’t present when Smith and her cousin came in, but she said the salon did not turn her away because of the dog.
Smith did not have an appointment, Bui said. She disputes that the cousin successfully made appointments.
“We were busy and we didn’t have time,” Bui said.
The ADA specifically addresses therapy dogs used to aid with PTSD. Smith said she’s been contacted by an attorney and an investigation has begun to determine if there is a discrimination case.
“I want to take it as far as possible,” she said. “This should not be done for disabled veterans or for people with service dogs.”
Smith was born in Richland and spent a portion of her childhood in Finley. She grew up in a Marine family and fulfilled her dream of becoming the family’s first female Marine when she enlisted several years ago. She served in San Diego as a firefighter and was released Jan. 30 because of PTSD.
She returned to the Tri-Cities to see family and is staying with her grandmother before she returns to California, where her husband remains on active duty. The couple is expecting a son this summer. Smith’s post-military plans include going to college and pursuing a career in law enforcement.
Getting a colorful set of nails was a treat after being in the military, which largely prohibits all but the most conservative manicures.
“I’m a civilian now. I’m a girly girl and I’m going to get my nails done.”
After being turned away, Smith and her cousin had better luck at a second salon. On Friday, she was sporting lively green polish with floral decorations.
Federal and state law grant wide latitude for people with disabilities to bring guide dogs and service dogs into a variety of establishments, generally defined as all areas where the public is allowed.
Businesses may ask if an animal is required because of a disability, and what work or task the dog has been trained to perform.
Washington’s Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination against people who use service animals to address a disability. Smith said she’s had Rocco for two years. He provides comfort and anticipates incapacitating panic attacks.
A spokesman for the Washington State Attorney General said those who believe they have been discriminated against may call its civil rights unit at 206-442-4492.
The Washington State Human Rights Commission, 800-233-3247, is also a resource for state-level complaints.