A Twin Cities-based long-haul trucking company has agreed to pay $22,500 to settle a federal lawsuit alleging that it required one of its drivers to pay a fee so his certified service dog could ride in the cab with him.
Transport America, of Eagan, agreed to pay the amount to trucker Matthew Ellison, 30, of Linton, N.D., as well as revise its policies to permit employees with disabilities to use a service animal without any additional cost, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
“It isn’t enough that [employers] allow service animals to accompany qualified individuals with disabilities,” said Julianne Bowman, director for the EEOC’s Chicago District. “They also must avoid placing any burden on the employee with a disability that is not placed on employees who do not need the accommodation or who do not have animals accompany them.”
Charging Ellison for his dog was a violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, said the EEOC’s lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in St. Paul. Ellison uses a service dog to assist him in coping with a range of psychological challenges, among them social anxiety disorder, panic attacks and depression.
The trucker’s dog “detects and warns Ellison about an impending panic attack,” the suit read, “allowing him to move to a safe place and practice other therapeutic techniques to alleviate the attacks.”
For the past few years, Transport America policy has required Ellison to pay a $400 fee and another $3 per week in order for the dog to be in the truck, according to the suit.
The policy also barred the dog from being in any of the company’s facilities, requiring that the animal be in a kennel or on a leash outside, the suit said.
“We are pleased with Transport America’s cooperation in reaching this agreement and removing the barriers in the way of drivers with disabilities,” said Greg Gochanour, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Chicago District.
Messages were left Wednesday with the company’s attorney seeking comment about the agreement.
Transport America was founded in 1984 and is a subsidiary of Toronto-based TFI International and has counted General Mills, FedEx and 3M among its longtime clients.