Sainsbury’s set for court battle in assistance cat accessibility row

Sainsbury’s is gearing up to prepare for a lengthy battle in court after a London branch of the supermarket refused access to an assistance cat and asked its owner to leave.

Web designer Ian Fenn, who was diagnosed with autism two years ago, is taking the supermarket giant to court over the store’s actions last March, which he says knocked his confidence.

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. If the case does go to court, Fenn’s disagreement with the supermarket giant could set a new legal precedent.

Fenn says his cat stops him from feeling overwhelmed and anxious. He has been allowed to take Chloe into other supermarkets, including Tesco, but Sainsbury’s is sticking to its guns.

Although it welcomes assistance dogs, Sainsbury’s argues that cats pose a food hygiene risk. It has asked its environmental health team to try to find a solution.

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Discussing the events in question, Fenn said he contacted Sainsbury’s ahead of his visit in March and was told it would be fine.

“In the end I was so upset I left the store and went home,” he said, adding that it took him two weeks to regain the confidence to go outside again.

“Chloe does not affect anyone else. I just want to go to a supermarket, get my stuff and go.

“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.”

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.”

Official proceedings have now been issued against Sainsbury’s after a resolution could not be found during the pre-action protocol stage.

Chris Fry, the disability rights lawyer representing Mr Fenn, said: “Fundamentally we have not been able to find a compromise so we had to issue proceedings in the county courts.”

A trial is expected to take place within the next 12 months.

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