A blind man wants answers from a major rental car operator after he and his wife were denied a vehicle because of his guide dog.
Paul Hutcheson, an independent mediator, said he had never experienced such blatant discrimination before a worker at Thrifty Car Rental refused to rent them a car.
“It is appalling that a significant outlet like Thrifty do that,” he said.
“It is pretty rare for me to lose it or get angry but sometimes I do and I was angry on Saturday. I was highly upset by it.”
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Hutcheson was in Auckland for work. He and his wife, who would have been driving, had booked a rental car from Thrifty Car Rentals’ Auckland Airport branch.
When they landed in Auckland from Wellington on Saturday and went to get their car, a worker saw Hutcheson’s guide dog, Nellie, and said it was company policy not to allow any pets into vehicles.
Hutcheson said the staff member asked for his dog’s certification to prove Nellie was a service dog.
He refused as it was clear Nellie was a guide dog, he said.
Eventually the staffer went to get his supervisor. The couple said they took too long to arrive, so they left and quickly rented a car at a firm next door.
Hutcheson said he raised his voice and got angry but it was justified.
“Something like this is terribly hurtful and terribly upsetting, and it’s natural that you raise your voice or show some signs of anger.”
Thrifty’s terms and conditions online say a customer can be charged a cleaning fee due to “dirtiness or smell caused by having animals in the vehicle” but that is “excluding disability assist dogs”.
“The human rights legislation is in plain language, you cannot discriminate on the basis of disability,” Hutcheson said.
In a statement, Thrifty Australia and New Zealand general manager Damien Shaw said it was company policy to allow service animals in Thrifty cars.
“On this occasion, an employee was unsure of the policy and therefore sought and gained approval from a senior manager,” Shaw said.
“Unfortunately during this time, the customer had left and we were unable to complete the booking.
“As an organisation, Thrifty prides itself on providing the best service to people of all abilities. We will continue to educate our employees about our policies and best practices to help avoid similar situations arising in the future.”
Hutcheson said he was intending on pursuing a formal complaint against Thrifty and was considering filing a complaint through the Human Rights Commission as well.
He also wanted Thrifty to make a contribution to Guide Dog Services.
New Zealand’s Human Rights Act 1993 states it is unlawful to discriminate against someone based on disability when it comes to employment, education, access to public places, access to goods and services and housing.
Under the Dog Control Act, guide dogs are permitted to enter any public place, including public transport.