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Autistic man, 51, sues Sainsbury's for banning his assistance cat Chloe
27 May 2022, 15:33
An autistic man is suing Sainsbury's for banning his assistance cat Chloe from coming into its stores.
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Chloe the black cat sits on the shoulders of web designer Ian Fenn and helps to stop him feeling "overwhelmed" and "anxious".
Mr Fenn, 51, was diagnosed with autism two years ago and has been taking Chloe out with him for around a year.
He lives in Tooting, south London, and says Chloe is allowed into other supermarkets such as Tesco.
During a visit to a Sainsbury's store in Clapham Common in March, Mr Fenn claims he was thrown out mid-shop.
He said he was "chased" by security who told him his cat was not allowed to be inside. He claims he was told to leave.
Despite telling staff he had cleared his visit with head office ahead of his trip, Chloe was refused access.
"In the end I was so upset I left the store and went home," he said.
"Essentially, I shut down. I became overwhelmed. I was very upset as well and that would have happened much sooner had Chloe not been there.
"I did lose confidence because... these kind of things happen so often to disabled people they have a name, which is access refusals."
Mr Fenn explained that the incident meant he didn't have the confidence to leave his house the following day.
"Because having a cat like this is unusual I'm pragmatic about it so I email or contact every business I visit in advance, if I possibly can. I have done that with over 200 places."
After Mr Fenn complained, Sainsbury's told him it would only allow assistance dogs into its stores.
They said allowing Chloe inside would go against their "high food hygiene standards".
A Sainsbury's spokesperson said: "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.
"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."
The Equality Act 2010 puts a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace or its practices to ensure disabled people are not at a substantial disadvantage.
Chris Fry, a leading disability rights lawyer representing Mr Fenn, said he has issued proceedings against Sainsbury's after going through the "pre-action protocol stage".
Pre-action protocol is when the case is set out and the parties explain their positions before proceedings are issued.
He said: "Fundamentally we have not been able to find a compromise so we had to issue proceedings in the county courts."
He added that they "hope a trial will happen within the next 12 months".