|By Phil Trexler, The Akron Beacon
Journal, OhioMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Jan. 20, 2010--It happens.
When you're paralyzed from the waist down, unable to control certain bodily functions, Akron-area businessman Shawn Pouliot said, accidents will happen.
Such an event did happen to him last summer, he said, at the Akron City Centre Hotel, when his colostomy pouch broke while he slept.
Despite paying nearly $500 to defray the costs of the cleanup, Pouliot learned two nights after Christmas that he no longer was welcome at the city's only downtown hotel.
Soiled linens, he was told, was the reason.
The hotel's reluctance to rent him a room is now the focus of a federal discrimination lawsuit Pouliot filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Akron. The suits seeks unspecified financial damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
No one from the hotel nor hotel attorney John F. Childs could be reached for comment.
Money isn't the goal of the lawsuit said Pouliot, 39, who was awarded $26 million after a 2001 work accident left him requiring the use of a wheelchair.
Pouliot, a former truck driver who has become a notable local entrepreneur, said he has the financial means and personal fortitude to fight whenever he sees discrimination, either against himself or another disabled person.
"I will stand behind any disabled person that feels that they have been at all humiliated or discriminated," he said. "I want justice."
Pouliot, who has invested in several area businesses, including the Riverside Grill in Akron's North Hill neighborhood, said he visited the City Centre last Aug. 11 for an overnight stay.
Despite having a home in Tallmadge, he said he frequently stays at local hotels "to get away from things and clear" his mind.
That night, he sought refuge from ongoing divorce proceedings, he said.
During his sleep, he said, his colostomy bag failed, spewing waste across the hotel bed. When he discovered the mess, he said he cleaned up and bagged the dirty linens. He tipped the maid $100 and paid the hotel $377 for the bedding, he said.
"I have a colostomy. I'm disabled. I have no control of that muscle. It just goes. It releases. It was an accident, and I paid for it," he said. "That was the end of it."
Nothing more was said.
On the night of Dec. 27, Pouliot and his business manager returned to the hotel, seeking a room for the night. It was approaching midnight, the roads were icy and the temperature outside was in the lower teens, he recalled.
But, according to the lawsuit, the night desk clerk had news for Pouliot as he sat in his wheelchair: He was banned from the hotel and would have to leave.
"I said, 'Are you . . . kidding me?,' " he recalled. "I was angry . . . Shocked. The more I got into it, I said, 'Are you really serious? I'm disabled, dude. It's freaking freezing and snowing and icy out. It's not safe for me to go back out there.' "
The clerk, who eventually called for a security guard, didn't budge. He showed Pouliot a note indicating that a manager had banned him for life. The reason: soiled linens from his previous visit.
Pouliot left the hotel and was driven to a suburban hotel.
"The bottom line is they didn't want to rent to me because of what happened in August and my situation," he said. "And I can't help what happened because I'm disabled."
Attorney Donald Malarcik, who represents Pouliot, said the hotel violated the federal Americans with Disabilities Acts by its refusal to rent the room to Pouliot strictly because of his disabilities.
The federal law bans discrimination against the disabled and is designed to ensure access to all public buildings for persons with disabilities.
"We can't stop companies from discriminating against people with disabilities, but we can surely hold them accountable for their actions," Malarcik said.
"Their behavior was outrageous. And what we want is for this to stop. The only way we can force them to stop is by suing them."
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or email@example.com.
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