SPRINGETTSBURY TOWNSHIP, YORK COUNTY, Pa. -- A retired York County police officer who was told he couldn't donate plasma because of his service dog could be making his case before the United States Supreme Court.
George Matheis donated at CSL Plasma 90 times. The last time he tried, he brought his service dog, Odin.
Workers turned him away. Matheis even offered to put Odin in the car while he donated; workers still denied him.
"The best way I can explain it is when I get a panic attack it's like I'm in a 50 gallon drum of water, and I feel like I am drowning, and I get very, very warm, and that's the way I started to feel," explained Matheis.
George Matheis is talking about when workers at CSL Plasma told him he couldn't donate until a doctor could prove it was safe to do so without Odin.
Matheis is a retired swat team officer who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder; Odin has certainly helped.
"He is closer to me than any human being," explained Matheis. "I talk to him and tell him things I would never tell another human being."
Before Odin even came around, Matheis says he never had a panic attack while donating plasma.
Matheis sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Initially, the district court sided with CSL Plasma, but Matheis and Nahass appealed.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately reversed the district court.
"Their [CSL Plasma] argument is if you use a service dog you have a condition that is so severe you might be a danger to yourself or others in the plasma donation process," explained Attorney Zachary Nahass with CGA Law Firm.
According to court documents, in its view, these people are categorically unsafe to donate plasma.
According to Nahass, workers also argued that the facility is not a place of public accommodation and isn't subject to the American's with Disabilities Act or ADA; it does accommodate for people who are blind and those with hearing impairments.
"It is totally backwards, and that is our argument, and that is what the Third Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with us on," added Nahass.
The court determined plasma donation centers, aka facilities where members of the public have their plasma extracted in exchange for mone, are subject to the ADA’s prohibition on unreasonable discrimination. It also concluded that these facilities are "service establishments".
It also found CSL must allow disabled individuals to use service animals unless they can show a regulatory exception applies. Court documents state CSL failed to provide evidence to satisfy the relevant exception—that any safety rule “be based on actual risks and not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities.”
However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals took a similar case involving the same company, and it disagreed.
"You have two different federal appellate courts coming to different conclusions which is the type of thing the U.S. Supreme Court might take up," explained Nahass.
"I am super excited it could go to the Supreme Court of the United States, it's a pretty big deal, and I hope to win this for all people who have disabilities and use service animals," added Matheis.
Under the ADA, places like laundromats, banks, beauty and barber shops, travel service, shoe repair service, gas stations, office of an accountant or lawyer, pharmacy, insurance office, professional office of a health care provider, funeral parlors, gas stations, even hospitals must accommodate people with disabilities, and for now, the CSL Plasma must do it too.
CSL Plasma has until the end of November to appeal the Third Circuit Court of Appeals' decision.
Nahass says if his client's case is taken by the Supreme Court, it could be heard this coming Spring.