A homeless shelter that turned away a blind man's guide dog violated two laws, the U.S. Department of Justice alleged in a lawsuit filed Friday.
The department's lawsuit accuses the City Rescue Mission of New Castle and one of its program managers of discriminating against Kenneth DeFiore of Edinburg and adds federal legal muscle to his own complaint, filed last year in U.S. District Court.
Both complaints said that Mr. DeFiore was evicted from an apartment in November 2011 and sought shelter in the 39-bed mission. It had open beds, but refused his guide dog, a Labrador retriever named Gabby, without whom he could not get around.
As a result, Mr. DeFiore remained homeless for 17 days, the department alleged.
"Mr. DeFiore became increasingly despondent and suffered significant damages," according to the complaint. "Mr. DeFiore attempted suicide by lying on the ground in the middle of a busy intersection."
The department argues that by refusing Gabby, the mission violated the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The department wants to enjoin the mission from further violations and compel it to pay damages to Mr. DeFiore and anyone else who was treated similarly.
Neither James Henderson, the program manager named as a defendant, nor an attorney representing the mission could be reached for comment.
In a motion filed in May, the mission's attorney argued that Mr. DeFiore's claim reflects "the mistaken belief that homelessness provides a person with access to any housing or shelter; in this case, a privately owned and independently operated Christian shelter."
The motion said that by virtue of its religious affiliation, the mission has First Amendment rights to "choose who could stay in its shelter on any given night."
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542 and on Twitter: @richelord. First Published June 28, 2013 4:00 PM