Refusing dollar fare and his guide dog costs safari driver $1,000


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ST. THOMAS - A taxi cab driver agreed to pay $1,000 to the young man whom she turned away for a ride more than two years ago because he had a service dog with him.

Zane Birnie, who graduated Monday from V.I. Montessori School and Peter Gruber International Academy on St. Thomas, filed a complaint in March 2013 stating that Altagracia Roumou, the driver, had violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Birnie, who is visually impaired, was trying to board the safari, he said, when Roumou refused to let him on because he had his dog with him, according to a prepared statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office on Tuesday.

"She also agreed not to discriminate against any individual on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of taxicab services, and to provide service to all persons with disabilities, including those accompanied by a service animal," the statement said.

Roumou said that she would adopt a Justice Department-approved service animal policy and would undergo training on providing service to people with disabilities, the statement said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office announced that it would be offering ADA training to workers in the taxi industry, in conjunction with the Disability Rights Center of the Virgin Islands and the V.I. Taxicab Commission.

"The settlement is a milestone for passengers with special needs that are using the taxis," said V.I. Taxicab Commissioner Judith Wheatley.

Wheatley said that, while the commission has tried to educate drivers as much as possible, the dollar safari drivers are the ones that most often neglect such guidelines, usually for lack of knowledge. The commission is going to boost its efforts as a result of the settlement, however, and at the request of the U.S. Attorney's Office, Wheatley said.

"Her argument was, 'What about the other passengers?' " Wheatley said of Roumou. "You have to tell your passengers, sometimes it's not what we choose. Sometimes it's what the law dictates."

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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