A London man, Ian Fenn, is taking supermarket giant Sainsbury’s to court over what he believes to be a breach of the Equality Act of 2010. This law states that shop owners must provide “reasonable adjustments, so people with disabilities are not severely disadvantaged.” And severely disadvantaged is exactly how Fenn’s interaction with a local Sainsbury store staff left him feeling.
Fenn was diagnosed with autism two years ago at the age of forty-nine. As one can imagine, this was quite the shocking diagnosis. For some time, he felt unsure how he would proceed with everyday activities, such as grocery shopping. Then enters Chloe.
Chloe is a twelve-year-old domestic shorthair who serves as a support animal for Fenn. She helps in many ways, such as waking him up in the morning or helping him know when to go to bed in the evenings. She also allows Fenn to go out in public places more easily, enabling him to focus on her rather than on what he describes as an otherwise unbearable environment.
“I get sensory overload in busy environments and tend to shut down. But with Chloe, I can focus on her.” – Ian Fenn
Chloe has been allowed entry into most places for the past two years without issue. Together, the pair have visited aquariums, restaurants, pubs, zoos, public transit, and even hospitals. Chloe will usually wear a bright yellow “Service Cat” vest and is kept on a leash, though she will often ride atop Fenn’s shoulders.
Fenn has gone to great lengths to ensure that he can take her out in public. According to Fenn, she is fully vaccinated and has even undergone treatment to minimize human-to-cat allergies. Fenn will always call or message a business ahead of his visit to ensure that there will be no issue with Chloe’s entrance. This is one of the many things that made the incident with Sainsbury’s particularly frustrating.
Fenn explains that he had messaged this particular location via Twitter before his visit to ensure that Chloe would be allowed to enter the store. In his own words, he was told to “come on in” and was promised that there would be no issues. And why would he suspect otherwise? Chloe had visited two other Sainsbury locations with Fenn prior!
As the pair were browsing for duck paste, a member of the store’s security team approached and told Fenn that he had to either leave Chloe outside or leave the store entirely. Fenn calmly explained to the employee that the Equality Act allowed Chloe to be there. He also mentioned at this time that he had permission from the store via social media for her to be there with him.
He attempted to explain that Chloe is a service animal who helps with his autism. Still, the store employees were having none of it. Fenn became so rattled from the encounter that he checked out for the items in his cart and left abruptly.
“I ended up becoming quite upset. I got to the point where I couldn’t actually remember why I was in the store and what I needed to buy,” says Fenn, “It affected my confidence significantly. I stayed in the house for two weeks before I got the confidence back to go out.”
Sainsbury responded to Fenn’s allegations of discrimination by citing their concern for food safety:
“We want to be an inclusive retailer where people love to work and shop and understand that some of our colleagues and customers may need support in our stores.”, said Sainsbury’s, “At the same time, safety is our highest priority, and our colleagues are trained to balance maintaining our high food hygiene standards with supporting all our customers who shop with us. We are in contact with the local environmental health team to see if there are ways we can help Mr. Fenn to visit our store without compromising this.”
Following the incident, Fenn has hired renowned disability lawyer Chris Fry to file a lawsuit again the supermarket, citing a breach of the Equality Act.
“The key and fundamental principles are that service providers have a legal obligation to provide reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled customers.” – Disability Lawyer Chris Fry
Fenn has seen tremendous support from cat-lovers worldwide and has even set up a JustGiving account to collect “fighting funds” for the pair’s legal fees.
While Mr. Fenn was not thrilled with the notion of going to court, he firmly believes that this is the best way to bring awareness to the issues at hand. He hopes that his efforts will allow others with disabilities to have greater freedoms for their own therapy animals.
“This is how we get things changed. This is how we get the access we need.” – Ian Fenn
Featured Image via Twitter