Veteran alleges discrimination by Steamboat Springs motel owner
January 27, 2013
Steamboat Springs — After a poor guest experience at a downtown budget motel, a disabled U.S. Army veteran who thinks he was discriminated against plans to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.
The Steamboat Springs Police Department got involved after Joseph Metzger got into an argument Saturday with the owner of the Western Lodge motel. Metzger reported the motel owner, Peter Guler, refused to let his German shepherd service dog named Ruud stay with him at the hotel, and at one point, Guler demanded a $1,000 deposit to have the dog stay at the motel, Metzger said.
"It was just a hassle that we didn't need," Metzger said. "We came here to hang out."
Police officer Evan Driscoll thinks the "hassle" was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Metzger, a Denver resident, arrived in Steamboat on Saturday with his girlfriend and service dog for a weekend getaway at the hot springs. The 26-year-old has served four deployments in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. In 2007, he broke his back in an improvised explosive device attack and was injured by a hand grenade in 2009. Today, the wounded warrior suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has his working service dog Ruud for companionship and therapy.
Metzger was able to check in at the motel at about 2 p.m. without a problem.
"When we came I told them about the service dog," Metzger said. "The one lady just took the information and gave us the key."
Metzger was approached by Guler after checking in.
"He flipped out and gave us a whole bunch of trouble," Metzger said. "He wanted me to give him extra money to stay there, and then he said he didn't want us to stay."
Guler refused to comment and hung up the telephone when reached Sunday evening.
Metzger said he showed the paperwork for Ruud along with proof of his military service, including purple heart license plates signifying he was wounded.
"He didn't believe me that I was disabled and said that I look fine," Metzger said.
When the situation escalated, Metzger called the police and Guler gave Metzger his money back.
"I didn't want to give that guy my money after that anyway," Metzger said. "If they forced him to let us stay there, I wasn't going to stay there."
Officer Driscoll told Metzger he suspected the incident was a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, a federal law that local police do not have jurisdiction over, Driscoll said. Driscoll advised Metzger to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice.
"We're definitely going to make sure we do a complaint," Metzger said.
Driscoll said he returned to the motel later to give Guler information about the ADA as it relates to service dogs. According to its website, the Western Lodge has a "no pets" policy, but according to the ADA, service animals are not pets.
"The ADA requires you to modify your ‘no pets’ policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability," ADA documentation states. "Neither a deposit nor a surcharge may be imposed on an individual with a disability as a condition to allowing a service animal to accompany the individual with a disability, even if deposits are routinely required for pets."
After being told about Metzger's incident, Routt County Veterans Affairs Officer Michael Condie found the incident upsetting, especially the part about Metzger being asked for a $1,000 security deposit.
"I think it's a bunch of crap," said Condie, who also is a disabled veteran that suffers from multiple sclerosis. Condie uses a Segway scooter to get around town, and per the ADA, Condie is allowed to use the scooter on city sidewalks.
Metzger was upset about the incident but he, his girlfriend and Ruud were able to get a room at another hotel in Steamboat that is pet friendly.
"Tomorrow we'll be at the hot springs, and we'll be fine," Metzger said.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com