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$25K Awarded Against Restaurant Owner who Prevented Employee from Serving Employee’s Mother Because of Service Animal

On November 4, 2014, the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (“Tribunal”) found that a restaurant owner discriminated against a customer (CC), who was also the mother of one of the restaurant’s waitresses (JC), on the basis of disability and family status when they refused to serve CC because she was accompanied by a service animal. 

In C.C. and J.L. o/a […] Restaurant, C.L. and J.L, 2014 HRTO 1625, a mother and daughter filed separate applications under the Human Rights Code (“Code”) after a restaurant in a small town in Northern Ontario refused to allow CC to be accompanied by a service animal, despite receiving proof and identification that the dog was a service animal.  The restaurant also ordered JC, a waitress at the restaurant to refuse service to her mother, CC. CC required a service dog to assist with a stress disorder, anxiety and a bipolar condition. 

During a heated exchange between CC and one of the restaurant owners on September 26, 2012, CC repeatedly advised one of the restaurant owners that she was entitled to have her service animal pursuant to the Customer Service requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (“AODA”). Despite being advised of same, the restaurant owner ended up swearing, refusing to serve CC and telling her to never come back.  CC was so upset over the incident that her husband took her to the local Crisis Intervention Unit where she was given medication.

During her next scheduled shift, JC was told by the restaurant owner that they were in the process of having their lawyers ban her mother from the restaurant. The owner instructed her to refuse to serve her mother, ask her to leave if she came into the restaurant with the service animal and to call the police if she refused.  The restaurant manager also told JC that they would make sure that her dogsled business would not open again if she did not comply.  As a result, JC resigned, and continued to operate her dogsledding business.

In or around December 2012, a public inspector came to JC’s house in response to a complaint about her dogsledding business, which was found to be unsubstantiated.  JC assumed it was her previous employer at the restaurant who filed the complaint.  This was the last straw that led JC and CC to file two separate applications to the Tribunal.

In reviewing the case, the Tribunal found the following:

  • CC’s disability or perceived disability was a factor in the adverse treatment she experienced by the restaurant owners;
  • Denial of service because of her service animal was an adverse effect directly related to her disability; and
  • JC had been adversely impacted on the basis of family status due to the threats the restaurant owners made to close down her dogsledding business, and forcing her to not serve her mother. Further, the threats made to JC amounted to a reprisal under the Code.

The Tribunal allowed both complaints, awarding CC $10,000 and JC $15,000 for injury to dignity, feelings, and self-respect.  The Tribunal also ordered the owners to post a letter in the restaurant stating that service animals were welcome and draft an anti-harassment policy.

This case serves as a reminder to employers that under the Code, and AODA, employers face hefty penalties if they do not allow service animals to assist a person with a disability, unless specifically exempt from doing so under law.  In order to ensure that employers are compliant with the requirements under the Code and AODA, it is recommended that front-line staff and management be trained on these legislatives requirements so as to reduce the likelihood of claims being brought against your organization.

Should your organization need assistance with complying with their legal obligations under the Code and AODA, the lawyers at CCP would be happy to assist.  Click here for a list of lawyers from CCP who can provide assistance in the area of AODA and human rights compliance.

Please Note: This blog has been prepared as an informational service for our clients and other interested parties. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, a complete statement of the law or opinion on any subject. Although we endeavour to ensure the accuracy of the content, no one should act upon the information provided without a thorough examination of the law after the facts of a specific situation are fully considered.


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