An autistic man is taking Sainsbury’s to court after the supermarket giant refused access to his assistance cat.
Web designer Ian Fenn, who was diagnosed with autism two years ago, says Chloe the rescue cat sits on his shoulders and stops him from feeling “overwhelmed” and “anxious”.
But the 51-year-old says his confidence was knocked after he was asked to leave a branch of the supermarket in south London in March because of his feline friend.
Mr Fenn, who says Chloe is allowed into other supermarkets such as Tesco, has subsequently tried to convince Sainsbury’s to let him take Chloe into stores.
Sainsbury’s, which welcomes assistance dogs, argues that cats pose a food hygiene risk but has asked its environmental health team to try to find a solution.
Mr Fenn looks set for a court showdown with the supermarket giant which could set a new legal precedent.
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.
Mr Fenn, of Tooting, south London, says he has been taking Chloe out with him for about a year.
He has owned her for five years after he adopted her from a cat rescue centre in Canning Town and estimates she is 12 or 13.
But when he visited the store in Clapham Common in March he claims he was approached by staff and thrown out mid-shop.
He added: “In the end I was so upset I left the store and went home.
“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.
“Chloe does not affect anyone else.
“I just want to go to a supermarket, get my stuff and go.
“I had plans for the following day and I cancelled them because I didn’t have the confidence to leave the house.
“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.”
Mr Fenn said he contacted Sainsbury’s ahead of his visit in March, and was told it should be fine.
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.”
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”.
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”.