PROVIDENCE — Haylee Mota and her family planned to celebrate her 17th birthday with dinner at Jacky’s Waterplace and Sushi Bar on Sept. 7.
But plans for the dinner for seven fell apart when the restaurant refused to seat them due the presence of her service dog, according to a lawsuit filed in Providence County Superior Court.
“It was frustrating,” said Mota, a precocious East Providence High School senior who plans to study mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California in the fall. “I know my rights under the [Americans with Disabilities Act]. Any establishment open to the public is open to a service dog.”
Born with Leber’s congenital amaurosis, Mota is legally blind and able to see just light and shadow. Her golden retriever, Nicky, accompanies her everywhere she goes, guiding her around obstacles and helping her locate seats, staircases and doors.
According to the Superior Court complaint, Mota and her family went to the restaurant at 200 Exchange Place in downtown Providence on Sept. 7.
An employee stationed at the host’s stand told the family that they could not be seated inside the restaurant or outside on its rear patio area due to the presence of Mota’s service dog.
The staff offered to set a table in the parking lot. After the family protested and pointed out that Nicky is a service dog, the manager told them she had called the owner, Kin Wah Ko, and that he insisted no dogs, Mota said.
Mota and her family “were forced to stand by the host station, for all to see, in humiliating fashion,” as the restaurant refused to seat them, and were eventually forced to leave, according to the suit.
“It was embarrassing because people were in line behind us,” Mota said.
They instead dined at the Rooftop at the Providence G.
Mota is accusing Ko, president and owner of Jacky’s Galaxie Providence Inc., and unnamed employees of violating her civil rights under state law by discriminating against her due to her disability by failing to afford her with a service they afforded to others.
Mota alleges that the restaurant and its employees intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her and that as a result of their negligence, she suffered mental and emotional harm.
Jacky’s and Ko denied the allegations in responding to the suit. They argue Mota failed to make a claim for which relief could be granted and failed to comply with her duty to mitigate damages.
David Ursillo, the lawyer representing Jacky’s and Ko, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Mota’s lawyer, Robert Caron, said he hopes the case raises awareness that denying access to a person with a disability is not allowed and will not be tolerated.
“I think we need to reinforce equal rights and equal protections for people with disabilities,” Caron said.