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A disabled veteran who inspired Sen. Al Franken's first legislative victory -- a service dog program for disabled veterans -- is suing McDonald's for $10 million after allegedly being harassed, beaten, and told that he couldn't take his service dog inside a fast food restaurant in New York City.
Luis Carlos Montalvan, a former Army captain who was wounded in Iraq, said he was confronted by restaurant workers on two separate visits, and beaten with garbage can lids on a third when he returned with a camera in hand.
Franken, in an e-mail message to Montalvan last week, called it an "awful, bizarre story."
A spokeswoman for McDonald's USA said the matter is under investigation and that the company could not comment further, other than to say that McDonald's takes pride in making its restaurants accessible to all customers, "including those with service animals."
Montalvan, 36, of Brooklyn, filed suit Oct. 28, a week after Congress approved Franken's provision establishing a pilot program to pair 200 wounded veterans with service dogs from nonprofit agencies.
In championing the legislation, Franken cited Montalvan and his service dog, Tuesday, whom he had met in a chance encounter at a presidential inaugural ball in Washington.
Franken said Friday that the incident underscores the problems of returning veterans. "Captain Montalvan made great sacrifices fighting for our country in Iraq," Franken said. "I'm not entirely familiar with the facts of this case, but what I do know underscores both the need to help our returning veterans and to raise awareness and increase access for service dogs."
Montalvan served two tours of duty in Iraq, suffering wounds in a knife and hand grenade attack that left him with spinal cord damage, traumatic brain injuries, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Tuesday, his service dog, is a golden retriever who helps him with balance, mobility and emotional support.
Montalvan's suit alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act in a series of events that began last December, several weeks after he completed service dog training.
Visiting a McDonald's in Brooklyn, Montalvan said several employees told him "pets" were not allowed. Even after he pointed to the dog's red service vest, he said various McDonald's employees, including a manager, continued to "glare" at him, inducing a panic attack.
In response to a complaint from Montalvan, an area McDonald's supervisor reportedly apologized in writing and assured Montalvan that the restaurant's workers would receive appropriate training and signage regarding the admissibility of service dogs.
Camera not welcome
Montalvan returned in January to find a sign stating that service dogs were welcome. However, a different manager allegedly told him no dogs were allowed. The manager reportedly left after Montalvan directed him to read the sign.
Montalvan returned with a camera two days later to find the restaurant closed because of health code violations. He says that when he tried to take pictures, two unidentified McDonald's workers confronted him and beat him with plastic garbage can lids.
A police report of the incident says he "did not exhibit injuries." But Montalvan said he suffered a pinched nerve, migraines and emotional distress.
"It doesn't seem like much on the surface," Montalvan said in a phone interview Friday. "But when you're a disabled veteran, and you have to deal with this, you just want to be left alone and eat your meal in peace. You just want to blend in."
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753