Woman accused of denying ride to blind man, service dog faces legal battle

James Boehm with his service dog, Shep. (Photo: WKRN)

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WKRN) – A former Uber driver is now facing a legal battle after allegedly denying a ride to a blind man and his service dog.

State law prohibits a person accompanied by a guide dog from being refused service that caters to the public.

The driver, Rolanda Douglas, was charged with failure to allow a guide dog to be admitted. She appeared in Rutherford County court Tuesday morning.

“What are my charges?” Douglas asked Judge Ben McFarland.

“Failure to allow a guide dog to be permitted where they are permitted, as someone who accommodates the public,” McFarland responded.

Douglas later asked for a continuance so she could hire an attorney to fight the charge.

“I was very surprised. Who goes to court without knowing why they were going to court?” James Boehm said to News 2.

Boehm, the man allegedly refused a ride, was also in court Tuesday with quite a bit of backup.

He is the president of the Nashville Chapter of the Federation of the Blind, and members of several federations for the blind across the state were hoping to send a clear message.

“We had people come all the way from Memphis,” Boehm told News 2. “We wanted to show that you are accountable to the law, if you break that law intentionally.”

Back in April, Boehm told Rutherford County sheriff’s deputies that an Uber driver refused to give him a ride because of his service dog.

“Unfortunately this happens every day and something needs to be done about it,” he said.

“It’s disheartening that you still have to have that same sort of discrimination 26 years after the Americans with Disability Act was passed,” said Christina Clift, president of the Memphis Chapter of the Federation of the Blind.

Members of the Federation of the Blind say they hope this serves as an opportunity to educate others.

“It’s an opportunity to educate the public, and Uber drivers, and Lyft drivers that, you know, that if you deny access when you provide a public service, that it is discrimination and it’s against the law,” Boehm.

An Uber spokesperson told News 2 back in April, “Uber expects compliance with all state, federal and local laws governing the transportation of riders with disabilities. Service animals must be accommodated in compliance with accessibility laws. Reports of refusing to transport a rider with a service animal will lead to deactivation of the Uber account.”

Tennessee Code Annotated 62-7-112 makes it against the law to refuse service to a blind or physically disabled person who is being led or accompanied by a dog guide dog in any place of public accommodation.

It’s a class C misdemeanor, which carries a penalty up to 11 months 29 days in jail, a fine up to $2,500, or both.

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