U.S. Federal jury unanimously decides disabled veteran can take his service dog to work

Perry with Atlas

A ruling by the U.S. District Court in Little Rock, Arkansas was made after a five-day trial by jury concerning whether or not a disabled American veteran should be allowed to take his service dog to work.

Perry with Atlas

Perry with his service dog Atlas (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Stephen Swofford)

Army veteran Perry Hopman and his service dog Atlas are a ‘team.’ Perry, 45, was diagnosed with PTSD in 2008 after serving a two-year tour in Afghanistan where he also suffered a traumatic brain issue in Kosovo in 2010. Atlas can not only calm Perry by sitting on his feet before an attack can get out of hand, he can also remind Hopman about his medication, keep people from getting too close in public, pick up and retrieve items and warn him when a migraine is coming on.

Atlas also goes a step further in taking care of his person by forcing him out of the house when he’s being too reclusive!

Perry has worked for the Union Pacific Railroad at their North Little Rock facility since 2008 where he’s an engineer on overnight runs to Van Buren in Crawford County. At the time of hiring Perry had been diagnosed with PTSD but didn’t require any special accommodation.

Atlas, a 125-pound Rottweiler, could perform his job as a service dog simply by being near Perry. It was made clear to the railroad that all job requirements would be performed without a problem as long as Atlas was nearby. When he was denied the second time, Perry took legal action and filed a lawsuit on January 26, 2018.

The federal jury unanimously decided Union Pacific must allow Atlas to accompany Perry to his job to help him deal with symptoms resulting from his PTSD and traumatic brain injury. He was also awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages.

Texas attorney John Griffin had tried a similar case in San Antonio in 2015 that found Schlumberger Technology Corp. violated federal law by not allowing a mechanic to take his service dog to work and restricting what the service dog could do.

Griffin says this landmark case will open doors for disabled veterans who suffer from war-induced disabilities. During an interview with Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Griffin stated:

“This will be a signal that employers should never treat anyone, much less a veteran, like the way Union Pacific treated Perry [Hopman]. They say, ‘Look, he gets through the day somehow, he works through his migraines, he works through his flashbacks, he manages to go to work [and] has a high-performance rating. I think you’ll see that this is a Catch-22 they’re trying to get you to put him in, claiming that since he can work through these episodes and the physical and emotional pain they bring him, he should have to endure them, even when there is a no-cost solution to allow him to work better and safer.”

Perry told the Gazette:

“I’ll finally get to work without being in pain and having flashbacks.”

The Union Pacific defense attorneys declined to comment after the trial. Two leaders from the railroad signed a deposition stating there was no law against having a service dog accompany an employee. Nebraska defense attorney Torriano Garland stated in his closing argument defending the railroad that Perry could still do his job safely within Atlas by his side.

During an interview with the Gazette, Garland stated:

“Union Pacific understands why Mr. Hopman wants his companion, Atlas, at work, but Union Pacific is responsible… for providing its employees a reasonably safe place to work.”

The law on service animals at work says a company must prove that a service dog is an “undue burden” or violates a federal law before they can deny a request. Garland used the argument that Atlas would take up too much space in a moving locomotive or would distract other employees.

Perry says being able to take Atlas to work with him is ‘a dream come true.’

Elisa