AaA: How can I enforce my legal rights?

by Pamela Cohen, staff attorney for Disability Rights California
August 6, 2014


How can I enforce my legal rights with regard to my service animal?


Legal rights to service animals are enforced through administrative complaints and litigation at the state and federal levels. This FAQ addresses enforcement at the federal level. However, your state may have its own legal protections for service animals, and administrative mechanisms for enforcing them.

How and where you should file an administrative complaint depends on the context in which you were denied access with your service animal. Here is a list of federal agencies that handle complaints about service animals in various contexts:



The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handles complaints of disability-based discrimination, including denial of an employee’s request to bring a service or emotional support animal to work as a reasonable accommodation for his or her disability. For information about filing complaints, go to:



Discrimination in housing is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Civil Rights (HUD). For information about filing complaints, go to:



Discrimination in education is enforced by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights (DOE). For information about filing complaints, go to:



The Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, Office of Civil Rights (DOT) enforces discrimination on aircrafts and in public transportation services such as subways, commuter rails, and Amtrak. For information about filing complaints, go to:


Public Entities and Public Accommodations

The Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights (DOJ) handles complaints about discrimination in programs, services, and activities by state and local governments, as well as private entities that are open to the public (known as “public accommodations”). These include businesses and nonprofit service providers that are open to the public, privately operated entities offering certain types of courses and examinations, privately operated transportation, and commercial facilities. For information about filing complaints, go to:

Please keep in mind that administrative agencies have strict rules about how long you can wait after an act of discrimination to file a complaint. Be sure to consult the relevant agency as soon as possible to make sure that you do not miss a deadline. State agencies may have similar deadlines. State and federal anti-discrimination laws also have statutes of limitations for filing discrimination lawsuits. It is necessary to go through the administrative complaint process before filing litigation alleging employment discrimination. For other types of discrimination, you can choose whether to file an administrative complaint before filing litigation.

Because anti-discrimination laws are civil rather than criminal laws, local police departments are not charged with enforcing them.  However, there may be state laws that make certain types of actions against service dogs or their handlers a matter of criminal law. For example, in California it is a crime to intentionally try to injure a service animal, or to allow a dog to injure or kill a service animal. See Cal. Pen. Code §§ 600.2, 600.5. Local police are responsible for enforcing these criminal laws.

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