In a politically incorrect twist on the infamous shopping scene from Pretty Woman, a legally blind shopper was barred from shopping at a Salt Lake City area Ann Taylor last weekend because she had a dog with her, even after she explained that she was dependent on the service animal to get around.
On her blog, Cruisin' with Cricket (the name of her adorable guide dog), Becky Andrews writes about the trials and tribulations of having Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that renders her unable to see more than about 5% of what's going on around her. Last weekend, Becky asked her husband to drop her off at an Ann Taylor so she could go shopping by herself. "If you haven't noticed, I am a little determined ... make that a lot determined :) to make sure I am utilizing any of the tools/skills that will help me lead an independent life as a woman who is blind," she wrote.
Great attitude, but tough luck for Andrews: Ann Taylor wasn't having any of her silly "Americans with Disabilities Act" excuses:
I was greeted by a clerk with her first words indicating I needed to leave the store with my dog. I politely explained that she was a guide dog and allowed to be here. She indicated again dogs were not allowed and she would need to talk to her store manager. I began to feel like my exciting find of the Ann Taylor store was not going so well. Unfortunately, the manager also was not too helpful and indicated that dogs were not allowed. I knew there were other people there as well, and I felt really alone. No one stood up and said, this is a guide dog she can be in this store. I again explained she was a guide dog and allowed to be here. At this point, I found myself just wanting to leave and go to another store where I was welcome.
Bizarrely, not even the one sympathetic employee who followed Andrews out of the store realized that the incident was illegal; she told Andrews she was sorry because "she liked dogs." Andrews explained "that it isn't about whether one likes or doesn't like dogs. Cricket is my guide dog and thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act she is allowed to enter Ann Taylor and any other public place that we want to go. She is my eyes." The Ann Taylor powers that be remained unconvinced, so Andrews called her husband, who accompanied her to Limited, where the clerks were very helpful.
Here's where the Pretty Woman reference comes in:
Steve [her husband] walked back to Ann Taylor and in his calm way educated them about a guide dog and also indicated they had also kicked out a very loyal, frequent shopper who had a closet full of their clothes!
Big mistake. Big. Huge. Sadly, those are Julia Roberts' words, not Ann Taylor's. A representative for the company told KSL News that Andrews didn't have Cricket in her harness, which is a violation of store policy. "Upon realizing her error, [the employee] apologized and said the guide dog could stay in the store," the rep said. But Andrews says Cricket was in his harness — not that it even matters under the law — and that the employee never apologized to her. She wrote about the allegedly false statement in an updated post:
Absolutely absurd! I am so disheartened that they have misrepresented what is the truth. I am blind and require the aid of a guide dog or a cane by my side to walk independently. To make it very clear I walked into the store with my guide dog in harness, of course! Why would I enter the store without her in her harness? I am so very grateful for the beautiful blessing of a guide dog that allows me to travel independently. I am so grateful for the Americans with Disabilities Act that allows me to have access to places that serve the public - guaranteed. These are privileges that I appreciate each day of my life.
The company could be fined up to $50,000 under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but Andrews told KSL that she didn't intend to sue. And get this: the classy woman even did her interview in one of her favorite Ann Taylor blouses, although she's not sure what she will do with the rest of her garb from the store. "I know right now I have a really sad feeling about them," she wrote. "I want to support a place that is respectful and speaks the truth."
Update: An Ann Taylor spokesperson emailed us this statement:
We at Ann Taylor sincerely apologize to Mrs. Andrews for her experience at the City Creek store.
Service animals are always welcome in our stores and this incident is not representative of how we approach customer service.
In our previous statement we had said that her guide dog was unharnessed. This was not the case. We were misinformed, and we are sorry that this information was released.
We strive for 100 percent customer satisfaction. In this case we fell short. We are reaching out to Mrs. Andrews and her family to make this situation right.