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Wheeling restaurant apologizes after refusing service to disabled teen
By Nadia Malik | Daily Herald Staff

Laura Greenberg, center, and her mom Sue, left, were turned away from a Wheeling restaurant that wouldn't accept the presence of help dog Dawn, Laura's best friend. Dad Stu is on the right in this August photo of the Arlington Heights family


Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

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Published: 12/4/2007 10:51 AM | Updated: 12/5/2007 12:15 AM

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In the midst of the first big storm of the winter, Sue Greenberg, her disabled daughter and their trained companion dog were turned away from a Wheeling restaurant.

Greenberg said they had to trudge back out into the snow and rain to find another place to celebrate 17-year-old Laura's birthday after the emotionally charged incident.

Laura, who suffered a brain injury a decade ago and can no longer walk or talk, uses a golden retriever, Dawn, to help her.

The manager at T.G.I. Friday's in Wheeling told the Arlington Heights family on Saturday that the restaurant couldn't accommodate Dawn even after Greenberg showed him her Public Access card, which explains the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Greenberg said they were told that since Laura already had someone to help her, the dog couldn't be allowed in.

"I definitely was flustered and frustrated," she said. "He just wasn't budging and he wasn't getting it."

Greenberg said the family has never had an issue with bringing their dog into any other restaurant or shop.

"It's just so unacceptable," she said. "It's not just wrong; it's illegal. How someone can be that insensitive is beyond me."

The restaurant issued a statement apologizing for the incident:

"We are very sorry for the terrible mistake our restaurant made. We absolutely should have accommodated our guest and her companion dog. We have contacted the guest to offer our sincerest apologies and we have re-educated restaurant management on proper procedures to ensure a similar situation does not occur."

Amy Freshwater, spokeswoman for T.G.I. Friday's, said Tuesday the manager had been replaced and the company will be re-educating management on the importance of ADA guidelines.

"We're absolutely appalled with the situation in the first place," she said. "This is something we're taking seriously."

She wouldn't comment on the manager's employment status with the company.

Greenberg said she doesn't want the employee fired but wants to make sure he and others receive training.

"He needs sensitivity training," she said. "He needs more than just telling him, 'You did a bad thing.'"

Greenberg said others in the restaurant overheard the exchange and got up and went with them to a restaurant nearby.

Various officials from the company have assured Greenberg that they will be working on additional training, she said.

"They're definitely trying to do everything they can," she said, "so at least this should never happen again to anyone else."