Restaurateur could face $42K in fines for refusing service animals
From Nolan Hicks, Elizabeth Rosner and Aaron Fels at NYPost.com:
A Manhattan restaurateur could be facing $42,000 in fines for refusing to welcome service animals at his eateries, according to legal documents.
Staffers at Limon Jungle and Intermezzo, among the eateries owned by Besim Kukaj, allegedly balked at making the federally mandated concessions to the handicapped, kicking off a battle with the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings.
The first complaint came in July 2017, when diner Henry Goldstein entered Limon Jungle for lunch with his service dog, Cookie.
But instead of a table, Goldstein and Cookie were shown the door by a waiter at the Seventh Avenue Mexican eatery.
“Where are the papers?” a manager barked at Goldstein, who had Cookie registered as a service dog to help with his severe anxiety, according to OATH.
Goldstein displayed on his smartphone a copy of Cookie’s city-issued registration letter, as a well as a bronze tag designating the canine companion as a service dog, which the manager waved off — even though Goldstein was well within his rights under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
By this point, about a half-dozen other patrons were gawking at the scene, exacerbating Goldstein’s anxiety and driving him out of Limon Jungle.
“Mr. Goldstein felt humiliated, belittled and discriminated as he led Cookie out of the restaurant,” wrote OATH Judge John B. Spooner in his recommendation, also noting that Goldstein felt compelled to bring up the incident 20 to 25 times to his therapist.
Separately, a tester at the city’s Commission on Human Rights — to which Goldstein brought his tale of woe — called another Kukaj-owned establishment, Intermezzo, to say he wanted to schedule a party there for a friend with a service animal.
“Alberto,” a worker at THE Eighth Avenue Italian cafe, “stated that the friend could not bring the service animal into the restaurant because it was in violation of the Health Law,” according to OATH documents.
It was only the anti-dog decree that was in violation of the law, launching the OATH case.
Kukaj repeatedly refused to show up to argue his side, leading Spooner to recommend a $14,000 damages award for Goldstein and $28,000 in city fines against Kukaj and the Bkuk Corporation restaurant group, of which Kukaj is a principal.
A final ruling is expected to come down this month.
“That’s not fair … especially if the guy needed his dog,” said Limon Jungle diner Kimberly Pacheco after lunch on Tuesday. “I have a dog who’s around all the time when we’re eating at home.”
Goldstein declined to discuss his case, while a voicemail message left for Kukaj seeking comment was not returned.