NYC Restaurant Owner Ordered to Pay $64,000 for Repeatedly Discriminating Against Service Dogs

New York's Human Rights Law requires restaurants to accommodate guests who have service dogs registered with the Department of Health.
October 11, 2019, 3:24pm
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On a July afternoon a couple of summers ago, Henry Goldstein and his registered service dog, Cookie, went to the Limon Jungle restaurant in New York City for lunch. The two of them were quickly stopped by a waiter who asked for Cookie's "papers," but the questions didn't stop when Goldstein flashed a copy of the dog's city-issued registration letter on his phone.

The two of them left without lunch, and the entire incident just made Goldstein's severe anxiety—the condition that Cookie helps to alleviate—even worse. He filed complaints with the city's Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) and with the Commission on Human Rights and earlier this year, an OATH judge ruled in Goldstein's favor.


Judge John B. Spooner wrote that Goldstein "felt humiliated, belittled and discriminated as he led Cookie out of the restaurant,” and he recommended that Besim Kukaj, the owner of Limon Jungle, should have to pay Goldstein $14,000 in damages, and $28,000 in fines to the city.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a year after the incident with Goldstein and Cookie, an investigator for the Commission on Human Rights called Intermezzo, an Italian joint owned by Kukaj, and asked about having a private party at the restaurant.

When the investigator said that one of the guests had a service dog, an Intermezzo employee said that zero dogs would be allowed, because they violate the city's health laws. (That's not true: New York's Human Rights Law requires restaurants to accommodate guests who have service dogs that have been registered with the Department of Health.)

In September, Judge Spooner upped the amount of Kukaj's fine to $50,000, partially because of the "blatant" discrimination, and partially because he wants restaurant owners to take these things seriously.

"In the absence of adequate civil penalties, there is a risk that businesses will continue to do as respondents have done here—ignore the commission and write off their discriminatory conduct as a mere cost of doing business,” the judge wrote in his ruling.

In addition to Limon Jungle and Intermezzo, Kukaj owns several other restaurants in New York City through his Bkuk Group. In 2014, his Gallo Nero Italian eatery raised some eyebrows in the West Village when it posted a sign advertising its "Big Straight Ice Cream." Big Gay Ice Cream, which was right across the street, suggested that maybe it was worth stopping in to "let em know what you think of this advertising campaign."

When Gothamist asked Kukaj to explain…all of that, he said that he just meant that his chef was making ice cream "straight from the kitchen," and he was "thinking he was going to do big sales." (Right…) In a statement, Big Gay Ice Cream clarified that the sign was "a non-issue."

But if you have a service dog, it might be best to take them anywhere other than Kukaj's restaurants, and not just because they might be turned away or questioned.