CEDAR HILL, Texas – A Veterans Day tribute turned into a nightmare for veteran Ernest Walker this past Friday when he dropped by the Cedar Hill Chili’s along with numerous other veterans to get a promised free meal in honor of the holiday.
Walker was sitting at a table with his military service says an elderly white man approached him first and said “they didn’t let you blacks serve over in World War II.” Walker shrugged off the racist comment, saying “This guy was 77 years old.”
The elderly man then walked to the back of the store and a few moments later the manager walked out.
It isn’t clear if the elderly man was simply suspicious of the uniform Walker was wearing, and reported his/her suspicions to the manager, or acted on his obvious bias.
Walker says he bought the uniform after he retired from active duty to wear on Veterans Day in recognition of his prior years of military service. “This is what I’m able to wear.” he said, almost apologetically. “Excuse me. Okay? And I purposely don’t wear rank or a name tag as not to be identified as an active soldier.”
Video of the store manager snatching the meal Walker received sent shockwaves across the internet. [youtube url=”www.youtube.com/watch?v=XE1KszEGyK0” width=”500″ height=”300″]
Walker said that after the manager approached him and questioned his status, he showed the manager his military identification along with his military discharge documentation. Then, according to Walker, the manager objected to his dog, saying he was not a real service dog. At that point, Walker says, he began recording.
The manager can be heard objecting to Walker filming the episode and also denying having been shown the discharge papers. He fails, however to ask for them when Walker clearly lets him know he has them.
“Look,” said a Orlando area veteran who asked not to be identified, “I understand why a vet might complain, you know, if a guy’s uniform didn’t look right, but when the guy showed his discharge papers that should’ve been it. You don’t get discharged if you’ve never been in. Black or white, we all get the same DD214 when we separate [from service.”
Walker also takes issue with the manager’s refusal to acknowledge his service dog, and tells the manager that he is prohibited from questioning the dog’s stats by HIPPA regulations. In fact, however, it is not HIPPA, but the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) that makes it a violation.
Under the ADA, Service Animal owners are to be taken at their word and can be asked only two questions:
- is the animal needed to assist with a disability (can be asked only if it’s not already obvious, like where it’s pulling a wheelchair), and
- what specific work does it do (e.g, if someone comes too close to the disabled person will the dog attack)?
Anyone who demands proof that the animal has been trained, licensed or certified violates federal law. The Act provides:
§ 35.136 Service animals
(f) Inquiries. A public entity shall not ask about the nature or extent of a person’s disability, but may make two inquiries to determine whether an animal qualifies as a service animal. A public entity may ask if the animal is required because of a disability and what work or task the animal has been trained to perform. A public entity shall not require documentation, such as proof that the animal has been certified, trained, or licensed as a service animal. Generally, a public entity may not make these inquiries about a service animal when it is readily apparent that an animal is trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability (e.g., the dog is observed guiding an individual who is blind or has low vision, pulling a person’s wheelchair, or providing assistance with stability or balance to an individual with an observable mobility disability).
Despite the federal laws, Walker says he showed the manager his dog’s identification. He said overall the ordeal was embarrassing and humiliating, making him feel as though he was “a black man trying to steal food.”
Chili’s says it unfortunately “fell short” in the way it handled this matter and noted that the matter had been pushed to the upper levels of the company for handling.
“I wanted to be validated as a soldier,” he said. “He refused to do that.”
No word yet from Chili’s on whether the manager would be sanctioned or fired.