New Castle News

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July 5, 2013

Justice Department joins fight over guide dog

NEW CASTLE — Another federal entity has entered a dispute involving the City Rescue Mission and a guide dog.

In May, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development filed a complaint against the mission over its handling of a vision-impaired man and his guide dog seeking shelter at the facility in December 2011.

Now, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil suit against the mission, making similar claims that it violated the Fair Housing Act of 1988, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The complaint was filed in federal court in Pittsburgh.

The suit charges the mission and staff member James Henderson violated the laws by turning Kenneth DeFiore away over his service dog, a Labrador retriever named Gabby.

Previously, DeFiore had filed his own federal lawsuit against the mission, making similar complaints.

The Justice Department suit says that when DeFiore sought shelter, he was turned down because personnel at the shelter said the facility was not equipped to handle animals.

DeFiore then sought the assistance of Lawrence County Community Action Partnership, where a caseworker went to his aid to request housing at the mission. The suit says the caseworker was told DeFiore could stay at the Croton Avenue facility, but the dog would have to be housed elsewhere.

The suit goes on to say DeFiore became despondent over the incident to the point he attempted suicide by lying in the middle of an intersection. However, he was taken away by police without suffering an injury.

The suit argues the mission’s action was illegal under various sections of the cited federal statutes. It seeks relief by asking the courts to order the mission not to engage in such discriminatory practices in the future.

Kevin A. Green, executive director of the mission, commented, “The City Rescue Mission looks forward to sharing their testimony in U.S. District Court, which might never be covered as a follow-up to the current negative media campaign being staged to try and force a monetary settlement of this matter.

“We look forward to the deposition process, and we will not provide details to try this case in the media.”

Green added his organization denies any discrimination occurred and said the area of the mission where it is possible to make “reasonable accommodation” for DeFiore and his dog was already filled by other men.

“I believe this litigation is yet another current example of government overreach — attempting to exert control over what we do as a Christian ministry, which is unconstitutional.

“We ask for continued prayer and support from our donors, volunteers and church and corporate partners — that they would not pre-judge this case based on the allegations of the claimant’s counsel. It is most unfortunate that litigation matters are a slow and painful process.”

In court documents responding to DeFiore’s allegations, the mission argued federal housing rules do not grant “unfettered access to all housing.” In addition, it said that applicable laws involving housing and discrimination allow for religious exemptions for entities such as the mission.

This is particularly true, it argued, because the mission accepts no federal funds for its homeless shelter.

The response also said it would have been difficult to accommodate the guide dog in a cramped facility where other homeless people were lodged. It also cited the possibility some of the homeless were allergic to dogs.

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