‘Pegaleg’ challenged for denying service dog

By Gail Geraghty
Staff Writer

Rick and Peg Marston feel like they’ve been had, by a woman who they said went berserk when they told her she couldn’t bring her son’s service dog inside their leather shop and tattoo parlor at Pondicherry Square in Bridgton.

Now they have hired a lawyer to fight her demand for $20,000 in damages she is claiming, following a May 16 ruling in her favor by the Maine Human Rights Commission.

They say the fate of their six-year-old business, Pegaleg Pete’s Leather, hangs in the balance.

“I’ll just completely go out of business. I’ll have to file bankruptcy,” Peg Marston said last week, of what would happen should Laura Creedon prevail in her $20,000 damage claim.

“I don’t have $20,000. I’m not insured for it,” said Rick Marston, a retired policeman and an avid motorcyclist who runs the store catering to bikers. Marston suffered a head injury two years ago in a motorcycle accident, and combined with the economic downturn and a high theft rate at the store, has decided to sell the Main Street business and property.

Creedon, 50, a resident of Brookline, Mass., said in a telephone interview that her goal in filing the MHRC complaint “is that he never does this to another person.” She said, “What happened was devastating” to both herself and her son, who has autism and was 16 at the time.

Creedon has provided the MHRC a copy of the dog’s “Service Dog ID” as well as a physician’s note “that states that the dog’s presence around (her son) was required at all times.”

No Vest Required

Creedon doesn’t dispute that her son’s dog was not wearing a service vest when they entered Pegaleg Pete’s store on Aug. 20, 2009. Under the federal law governing service animals, no vest is required, not even a badge. She said the dog, named Eros, was wearing a badge around its neck, however.

“My son showed him the badge and (Rick Marston’s) response was, ‘I don’t care about that.’ I don’t care about that?” she asked incredulously. She said her son needs a service dog to “give him a communication tool, so he doesn’t have to verbalize.”

Rick Marston said he doesn’t recall the son showing him the dog’s badge, and that the leashed dog was passed back and forth several times between Creedon and her son. “He looked normal. He acted normal,” Marston said of Creedon’s son.

He said dogs aren’t allowed in the store because the tattoo parlor, run in the back of the store by Ernie Valineau, needs to maintain a sterile environment. Even after the MHRC ruling, Marston continues to post a sign on the door saying “No Dogs Allowed.”

Marston’s lawyer, Lawrence Sawyer of Windham, said, “The whole reason why she was asked to leave the store was her obscene obscenities she was yelling. She just lost control completely.”

In their ruling, the MHRC cited a police complaint Creedon made with the Bridgton Police Department immediately after she and her son were asked to leave the store. When Officer Dave Sanborn called Marston to check into Creedon’s complaint, Marston didn’t say Creedon was asked to leave because of profanity or disruptiveness; he said it was because he had to maintain a sterile environment and dogs were simply not allowed.

“Had (Creedon) been asked to leave only after she became disruptive, then (Marston) would have been entirely justified in removing her from the store,” the ruling stated.

Under the Maine Human Rights Act, once a person with a service animal identifies it as such, “all inquiry must cease.”

“The respondent (Marston) does not have the right to demand written confirmation of the animal’s status, nor to inquire about the nature of the affected person’s disability. There are a myriad of disabilities (diabetes, epilepsy . . .) that would be unapparent to observers,” the ruling states.

Rick Marston thinks the law is flawed in that regard; had the dog been wearing a vest, Marston would have allowed it in the store, but would have asked Creedon to keep the dog near the entrance, and not roam around the store as it did.

“There probably should be some kind of marking on (service dogs),” Marston said. “The reason she got thrown out was because of her attitude. She was pretty belligerent, right from the get-go.”

His lawyer, Sawyer, agrees that there should be some kind of concession given to the Marstons because of Creedon’s disruptive behavior.
“It had nothing to do with the service dog. As far as I can tell, she’s just looking for money,” Sawyer said.

Patricia Ryan, executive director of the MHRC, said conciliation negotiations between parties of a MHRC complaint are confidential by statute, so she could not comment directly on the case. But in a letter the Marstons received May 24 from MHRC compliance officer Barbara Lelli, it states that Creedon will agree not to sue the Marstons in Maine Superior Court in exchange for a financial settlement of $20,000.

The letter also states that the Marstons must agree to provide training and public awareness on unlawful discrimination practices by businesses under the Maine Human Rights Act, and withdraw a disorderly conduct complaint they made about Creedon to Bridgton police.

Ryan said the MHRC ruling that Marston violated the law is non-binding, but is “a reflection on how the commission believes the court would rule” should the case go to Superior Court. “We’re required by statute to try to resolve the matter through negotiations,” she said.

Sawyer said the Marstons believe there are mitigating circumstances in this case that will work in their favor as he attempts to “get the Marstons out from under these claims.”

In the ruling, MHRC investigators state that, “Even if (Creedon) was entirely within her (and her son’s) legal right to demand the dog (and they) be allowed to remain in the store, this is obviously not license to disrupt the store’s business by yelling, or threatening, or using profanity to emphasize a point, regardless of how clear cut the underlying legal point might be.”

Marston said he has no problem educating businesses about the law regarding service dogs. “I’d tell them to just let anything in, I don’t care what it is, a service giraffe, a service elephant, a service horse. This is Maine, for Pete’s sake. There should be a limit on what people can sue you for.”

Please follow and like us: